Mushers were making their way to Willow, Alaska, on Sunday, for the competitive start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. 

But Saturday was all about the fans.

Thousands lined the streets for the shortened, fan-friendly ceremonial start in Anchorage. 

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Spectators line Anchorage's 4th Avenue just after the ceremonial starting line of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Nathaniel Wilder/Reuters)

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A team heads out at the ceremonial start to begin their near 1,600-km journey. (Nathaniel Wilder/Reuters)

The event gives fans a chance to get up close and personal with the dogs before they head out on the solitary trail. 

It's very exciting. 

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An excited pup gets ready to race, while Alaskan musher DeeDee Jonrowe and Senator Lisa Murkowski make preparations. (Nathaniel Wilder/Reuters)

The ceremonial start usually covers an 17.7 km route, going along city streets and trails from downtown Anchorage to the east side of the city. 
 
But the lack of snow forced organizers to shorten the opening race to a 4.83 km route. 

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Alaskan musher DeeDee Jonrowe heads to the ceremonial start. (Nathaniel Wilder/Reuters)

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Zoya DeNure races through downtown at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage. (Nathaniel Wilder/Reuters)

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A team heads out at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Nathaniel Wilder/Reuters)

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A team heads out at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to begin their near 1,600-km journey through Alaska's frigid wilderness in downtown Anchorage, Alaska March 5, 2016. (Nathaniel Wilder/Reuters )

There are 85 mushers signed up this year for the race, which crosses long stretches of unforgiving terrain, including two mountain ranges and the wind-lashed Bering Sea coast.

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Musher Rob Cooke and his team leave the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Nathaniel Wilder/Reuters )

 

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Musher Miriam Osredkar and team leave the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Nathaniel Wilder/Reuters)


In Willow, mushers make the final preparations for the nearly 1,600 km race to Nome.

This includes saying goodbye to friends and families and making the final checks of their sleds. 

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A musher handler with Alan Eischen's team embraces one of Eischen's dogs. (Nathaniel Wilder/Reuters)

With files from the Associated Press.