WILLOW – Thousands of people gathered in Willow Sunday to cheer on the mushers headed north to Nome.

All 69 mushers left the starting line at the official restart of the Iditarod.

Among the fans was Mike Kuchar, serving up hot dogs to other Iditarod fans for the price of a story.

“I think Alaska’s been pretty good to us, so, easy opportunity to give back,” Kuchar said.

Kuchar is one of many who said he wouldn’t have made it to the race restart if it had moved to Fairbanks.

“We’re both self-employed and our wives are 51 percent owner of the company,” he said. “We’d have a lot to answer to Monday morning if we didn’t make it back in time.”

Poor trail conditions almost forced the move, but race organizers say leaving from Willow is tradition for the mushers and the fans.

“You’ll see families, groups of people on snow machines, on skis and airplanes literally for the first 70 miles, camped along the trail enjoying themselves, wishing mushers good luck,” said Stan Hooley, Iditarod executive director.

The conditions are a little better than they were a few weeks ago, but still they’re bad enough some mushers are concerned about safety.

“We saw pictures online of the gorge and the steps and leaving Rohn and it’s not pretty,” said Iditarod musher Kristy Berington. “It doesn’t look like winter.”

Race officials showed trail pictures to the mushers, helping them plan ahead for the extra risk.

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