Mushers welcome rest at Alaska villages

2013-03-05 20:59
Musher Anna Berington negotiates a steep drop off in the trail after departing the Finger Lake checkpoint in Alaska during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Bill Roth, AP)

Musher Anna Berington negotiates a steep drop off in the trail after departing the Finger Lake checkpoint in Alaska during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Bill Roth, AP)

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Rohn - Imagine standing on a sled behind a team of 16 dogs, travelling kilometre after desolate kilometre in the Alaska wilderness without any sign of other human life.

All of a sudden, lights shine off in the distance, the first village to come into view in a very long time.

Whether it's a single cabin or a booming village of several hundred people, for mushers on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the villages are not only checkpoints to eat, rest and recharge, but a chance to interact with someone other than their dogs.

"There are no checkpoints that I dislike," said defending champion Dallas Seavey.

"Every time you come around the corner and see the lights of a checkpoint approaching, it's a great sight."

Four-time champion Martin Buser rested at the checkpoint in Rohn after a blistering fast 273.5KM run that had put him hours ahead of the other teams.

Buser reached Rohn at 09:53 on Monday, where he took a break and watched other mushers arrive and leave.

That put Paul Gebhardt in the lead on Tuesday morning. He pulled into the checkpoint about nine hours after Buser and then got back on the trail.

Aliy Zirkle was in second place.

There are 26 checkpoints along the 1 609km trail from Anchorage to Nome, and for last year's runner-up Aliy Zirkle, the welcomes they receive are truly Alaska events: Villagers greet the dogs first.

"And it's an open-armed greeting, where they want to make sure all the dogs are OK, and they get straw for them and food for them," said Zirkle, running her 13th Iditarod.

The checkpoints serve a purpose. Veterinarians staff the checkpoints to examine the dogs, and race officials make sure the mushers are fit to continue.

Mushers are required to take three mandatory rest periods during the race.

The village of Takotna is becoming a popular place for mushers to take the longer rest period. It comes 529km into the race, at a time when the dogs are ready for a break and mushers need a good meal.

And why not at a foodie village? The town of about 50 people on the Takotna River is renowned for filling the school gym with homemade pies, moose stew, moose chilli, steaks and made-to-order breakfasts for grateful mushers.

Seavey takes his 24-hour layover at Takotna, where the town's volunteers provide mushers hot food and other things that might seem minor, such as "a microwave with a hot wet towel to take care of a quick - well, I wouldn't call it a shower, but wipe your face off and get some of the grime off your hands and face."

Read more on:    alaska

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