Audio Interview in Takotna

By KNOM

audio by Laureli Kinneen; text by David Dodman

Pete Kaiser says that a 24-hour layover means about the same thing to him as it does to his dogs: “eat and sleep.”

At a moment when he was doing neither, the young Bethel musher talked to KNOM trail reporter Laureli Kinneen. Kaiser was in the middle of his mandatory 24 in Takotna, where he regretted to report that portions of his team had been hit with a stomach virus.

In Laureli’s interview, he talked about the “stars” of his dog team, his emphasis on improving their health – hopefully sooner rather than later – and his status as an “up-and-comer”:

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Day 3- Let the Sleeping Begin!

Pete arrived into Takotna last night at 02:28am with 15 dogs. He is taking his 24 hour layover here in the land of great pies and steak dinners. He can leave at 02:28am early tomorrow morning.  He arrived in 20th place.

From Alaska Dispatch TAKOTNA — After driving dogs for two days, the village of Takotna is where Iditarod mushers can count on a bit of luxury. Here, volunteers offer valet parking for the dog teams, and hot water — used to help feed the dogs — is always available. Race fans make sure of that by constantly tending to fires burning beneath the water barrels. With the added bonus of hot showers, good places to sleep, and famously abundant homemade pies and home cooking, Takotna is the place where mushers love to linger and is where many will take their mandatory 24-hour layovers.

Overnight Tuesday mushers piled into the riverside community, led by a four-time champ and record holder for the fastest time ever, Martin Buser, who pulled in at 8:16 p.m. with a feisty team and some spunk of his own. Gliding in with his head lamp turned off, Buser nearly caught the checkers off guard.

“He knows that’s what we watch for,” said lead checker Frankie Sayer, who suspects Buser did it as a way to joke with the race staff. After then shouting at an onlooker to get out of his way, Buser barked out another request to the dog handlers standing by to lead his team to its sleeping spot: “Let me go tie up those leaders before we have multiple breedings.”

One of Buser’s female dogs is in heat, and some of the males on the team were having a hard time resisting her.

Buser had the place to himself for a while before any other mushers showed up. But within two hours the bulk of last year’s top ten finishers were on site, including the race’s man to beat, another four-time champ and reigning king, Lance Mackey. Mackey pulled in under starry skies just before 10 p.m. with a pack of other racers close behind.

One by one each declared they planned to take their 24-hour rest, and many seemed to be having better luck with their dogs than in prior legs of the race. Where sick or injured dogs had earlier caused teams to dwindle in size, the 18-mile section of trail from McGrath to Takotna, with gentler terrain and the cooler temperatures of a night-time run, interrupted the trend.

For all of the creature comforts that a layover in Takotna provides, there is another reason mushers will haul up here instead of pressing on for Ophir. Taking off after a long rest from Takotna allows drivers to monitor how well each dog is doing and affords them the opportunity to make adjustments to the team, if necessary. If a dog isn’t performing well, a musher can drop it after the short run to the next checkpoint. But if a musher takes off from Ophir fresh from a day-long rest, it will be 90 miles before he or she can make the drop.

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com.