A 61-year-old nurse from southeastern Minnesota is tackling the picturesque but daunting terrain of Alaska in her 11th mushing of the Iditarod, the world’s premier sled dog race.

Cindy Gallea, of Wykoff, stood in 50th place among 66 entrants early on in the race, which began Sunday in Anchorage and ends more than 1,100 miles away in Nome, where a $50,000 first-place prize awaits.

Race officials list Gallea as the only current Minnesotan in the eight- to nine-day competition.

“I love running the dogs, working with the dogs,” she said before the start of her 11th race, with her best finish being 33rd. “I love being in Alaska, being around the beauty.”

Gallea grew up on a farm in Minnesota, received her undergraduate degree in nursing at St. Olaf College in 1973 and started mushing in her mid-30s while living on the North Shore. Work took her to Montana in 1990, where she kept mushing.

She returned to Minnesota in 2010 to be closer to family and lives about 35 miles south of Rochester.

“I have been running sled dogs for 25 years,” she said. “I have run Iditarod numerous times but took the past two years off. I have greatly missed the race.”