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From Our Listeners
Alaska and Yukon Headlines
Updated: Monday, 3/3/14 at 12:31am
Martin Buser leads the pack as he approaches the Finger Lake checkpoint.
Buser holds a few mile lead over fellow Big Lake musher, Kelly Maixner.
Hugh Neff, Nicolas Petit and Allen Moore round out the top-five.
Last year’s runner-up, Aliy Zirkle, ranks 11th so far, clocking into the Skwentna checkpoint at 9:09pm Sunday.
The 2013 Iditarod Champion, Mitch Seavey is currently near the middle of the pack in 32nd place.
The 42nd annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race is underway. Dog teams left Willow Sunday. They’re making their way toward the Alaska Range, where the trail is reportedly extremely rough.
Even the most experienced veterans have concerns about what they might find on their way through the mountains.
Many mushers have their sights set on the checkpoint in Nikolai, including four-time champion, Jeff King.
“If you wipe out your sled or a key dog or sprain your leg, it’s going to happen today or tomorrow,” King said.
Nikolai is the sixth stop along the trail, more than 260 miles from the start line. King says the vast majority of logistical challenges in the Iditarod occur before teams get there.
“Our teams have the most excessive energy they’re going to have the entire way, the teams sizes are largest and it is by far the most challenging piece of trail,” he said.
A YouTube video of the trail outside Rainy Pass shows bare ground, rerouted in spots through the Dalzell Gorge. There are also reports of weak ice on the Rohn River. It’s a trail report Martin Buser is concerned about.
“One slip and it can bring a race to an end or it can really create more challenges,” Buser said.
He’s has run the race 30 times. He’s also a four-time champion with 18 top-ten finishes. He built himself a new sled to handle conditions this year.
Buser: “It’s just a virtually indestructible runner system that’ve built, that I don’t think anybody has in the race, so I know at least my runners are not going to break.”
Schwing: “What did you make them out of?”
Buser: “They’re a high density plastic.”
Buser took the lead early in last year’s race, only to come up short by the time he reached Kaltag. His run-rest schedule was experimental. He was also running a team of young, inexperienced dogs. That team is back, a year older with lots more miles on their legs after a successful mid-distance racing season.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I tried last year and I’ll try maybe even a crazier move this year, but I think the dogs are ready to keep up with an unorthodox schedule.”
Buser’s pale blue eyes twinkle. He doesn’t elaborate. But that kind of cunning doesn’t scare other returning champions like Kotzebue’s John Baker.
“We should expect to see the strongest team that I’ve ever brought to the race,” he said.
Baker says he’s ready to face much of the same competition he has for the last 18 years.
“The same people are here except for Robert Sorlie is back and that will certainly add some flavor to the race for sure,” Baker said.
Robert Sorlie brought 16 dogs from Norway to try for a third Iditarod championship after a seven-year hiatus.
“Oh, I’m very tough,” Sorlie said. “I have been doing dog races for 25 years now in the top all the time. I’ve always been in the top three in mostly every race, so I know what you have to do when you are out there. But of course you have to the team. If you don’t have the team, you cannot do good races.”
Aliy Zirkle believes she has the team Sorlie is talking about. Her petite sled dogs are coming off two years of back-to-back Yukon Quest-Iditarod runs, with two consecutive Quest wins and two Iditarod second place finishes. Zirkle is the favorite in this year’s Iditarod, but that doesn’t worry her.
“I’m going to worry about what’s really kind of critical which will be trail issues, and dog issues and musher issues and that kind of thing, but we’ll just keep figuring it out as we go,” Zirkle said. “That’s what I like about this race. You just keep making decision as you make your way down the trail and hopefully you make the right ones.”
Worry or not, mushers will have to face whatever the trail throws at them as they cross over the Alaska Range. After that, they still might face warm temperatures and there’s plenty of reported glare ice and hard-packed trail as they make their way for Nome.
Iditarod mushers on Sunday raced away from thousands of cheering fans into the remote Alaska wilderness on their long journey to Nome, amid concerns that poor trail conditions may prove perilous for mushers and their dogs.March 2, 2014
Jeff King thinks of the Iditarod as a 10-day stretch, in which his dog team must go 100 miles each day. When his dogs run out gas, he pulls over and fills up the tank by feeding and resting them.March 2, 2014
The 42nd Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race gets underway in Willow, Alaska Sunday.
On Saturday, mushers lined out their dog teams in downtown Anchorage for the Ceremonial Start of the race.
This year’s race includes six former champions and at least 20 mushers vying for a top-10 finish.
New Zealander Curt Perano, otherwise known as the Kiwi Musher, took off first from the ceremonial start line in downtown Anchorage. He was followed by 68 others. Some are running the race for the experience. Others, like Aliy Zirkle are long-time veterans looking for a win. The Two Rivers musher spent most of Saturday morning shaking hands and posing for photos with fans like Florida tourist Syvilla Morse. “I have run before once or twice…OK, 13 times,” she joked when Morse asked Zirkle if she’d run the race before.
“Have you won?” was the next question. “Actually no, I haven’t quite won yet, but thank you for asking,” Zirkle responded.
Zirkle is running the team that led husband, Allen Moore to a second consecutive Yukon Quest Championship this year. She’s finished the last two Iditarods in second place behind a Seavey. In 2012, she was beat by Dallas Seavey. Last year, his father Mitch managed to stay ahead for the win.
He says he’s running one of his best teams for this his 21st Iditarod.
“Sometimes we start with dogs that we think are sound,” Seavey said. “But when you get out there a couple days, maybe that old injury flares up again. Any of those guys I’m just leaving home.”
This year’s field is deep. There are six returning champions and countless top-10 finishers among the 69 teams running. Ray Reddington, Junior has run the race 12 times and finished in the top-10 three times. He is well aware of what he’s facing.
“Every year, we say it’s the best field there is, but I think it’d be hard to compare any years to this one,” he said.
The race follows the northern route and he says there is one thing in particular he’s looking forward to.
“We’ll have some good food at Galena I hope. You know, we always do!” Reddington said.
But Galena is more than 500 miles down the trail. Before teams get there, they’ll face a guaranteed rough trail over the Alaska Range. There are reports of snow free rocks in the notorious Dalzell Gorge and open water near Rohn. Glare ice and hard-packed trail will also challenge sled dogs and mushers alike.
From fur auctions and carnival rides to races with reindeer and outhouses, the 79th annual Fur Rendezvous festival is classic Anchorage at its best.March 1, 2014