Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage and Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
It’s become a Martin Buser style race, with teams taking their twenty four hours in friendly Takotna.
Leading teams have been dwindling. Last year’s Iditarod winner Lance Mackey has had to drop four dogs. Paul Gebhart decided to scratch due to trouble with his dogs. Hugh Neff, Mitch and Dallas Seavey, and John Baker find themselves down to thirteen dogs. There is some kennel cough developing on the trail, but the main problem may be temperatures a little too warm for many of the teams.
But for four-time-winner Martin Buser’s team, things are going well. He came into Takotna with an hour and a half lead over Mackey and looks to be taking his twenty four hour layover there. Buser took the lead on the Kuskokwim. APRN’s Ellen Lockyer was there as he took just about a minute to check in in McGrath yesterday evening:
Martin Buser arrived in McGrath at 5:55 Tuesday evening to claim the first to the Kuskokwim honors. Buser had a dog in the basket, one he dropped quickly as he almost simultaneously accepted his PenAir prize for his first to the river feat. Buser did not pause for kudos, however, demonstrating the tension the usually affable musher must be feeling. He was back on the river in a minute, soon a speck against the white landscape downriver.
Lance Mackey, running third out of Nikolai, passed Sebastian Schunelle somewhere between that checkpoint and McGrath. Mackey breezed into and out of McGrath, a full hour and a half after Buser left, pausing only to untangle a couple of his dogs as he headed down the riverbank
Schnuelle was hot on Mackey’s heels, barely pausing for breath before heading downriver at full gallop.
And so it went all evening, Hugh Neff, Mitch Seavey and Ray Redington Jr. checking in only minutes apart, and mushers barely stopping long enough to check in before pushing back onto the Iditarod trail.
Sebastian Schnulle came into Takotna just a quarter of an hour behind Mackey with 14 dogs. The next arrivals were Hugh Neff, Ray Redington Junior, Mitch Seavey, Bobert Buttzen, Hans Gatt, Dallas Seavey, MIke Williams Junior, John Baker, Sunny Lindner, Dee Dee Jonrowe, Ramey Smyth, Bruce Linton, Aliy Zirkle, Sven Haltman, Jessie Royer, Rick Swenson and Peter Kaiser.
Like most teams, Dallas Seavey’s stop in McGrath was brief, but the third generation musher did take some time to sign autographs:
Temperatures on the trail ahead are forecast to be in the twenties and as of early this morning nobody was making the move to Ophir and beyond. The trail through the remote former gold mining country to the halfway point in Iditarod can be notoriously bad, with wind drifted snow. At last report the trail was packed well, but snow was deep if a team got off the packed trail. The Bureau of Land Management put some big new markers in this year, so there may be less problem with mushers getting sidetracked.
Photos by Josh Edge and Ellen Lockyer, APRN – Anchorage: Martin Buser speeds through McGrath checkpoint.