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Autographs Seem the Only Thing to Slow the Rush Through McGrath

McGrath, AK - The community of McGrath waved goodbye to more mushers than it welcomed in overnight.  Iditarod teams buzzed in and out of the checkpoint all night long.  It was clear the first few teams in and out of the checkpoint were all in chase mode.

Dog teams started arriving in McGrath in the early evening.  For three straight hours, team after team pulled into the seventh checkpoint on the trail.  Each arrival was just as chaotic as the last.  Mushers tossed vet books to veterinarians and checkers clamored for their signatures.  As personnel handled the business-end of the race, local kids thrust notebooks, scraps of paper and pens into mushers’ faces, begging for autographs.

Mushers were generally more than happy to sign autographs and vet books simultaneously.  Aliy Zirkle stayed just long enough to sign her name to a few sheets of paper, decorated with sled dogs.  Lance Mackey came through shortly after.  He had just passed fellow former champion Mitch Seavey. But the kids in town wouldn’t let Mackey head out to chase down the competition without his John Hancock. Just as the four-time champ sped off… Mitch Seavey sped in. He joked that he felt like he was running a sprint mushing race.  "Lance and I gotta go do the Rondy lap two here, geez!"

Teams continued to jet through the checkpoint and the mood grew more frantic.  DeeDee Jonrowe barely have time to sign anything.  As kids asked for her autograph, she yelled to get her dogs through the checkpoint.  She didn’t want her team to think they were stopping for rest.  Her plan was to push through McGrath and stick with the leaders ahead of her.  As Jonrowe took off, the group of kids ran as fast as they could behind her, down on to the Kuskokwim river.  The scene replayed itself over and over, before Two Rivers veteran Sonny Lindner finally decided to park his team for a few hours.  He told kids he'd sign autogrpahs just after he parked his dogs.  He planned to stay just for a little while.

Lindner has consistently run dogs in the Iditarod for the past 30 years.  Other mushers are still trying to figure out what Martin Buser has planned after finishing his mandatory 24 hour layover and setting a blistering pace right out of the gate, but Lindner says he likes the approach. "I think he made a pretty cool move, because he drew a front number and you know, having a team that can run in the warm, putting a long run on 'em."

For the time being, Lindner plans to help his dogs recover from warm runs over the last few days.  He’ll take his long rest further down the trail in Ophir and avoid the busy dog yard in Takotna.  It’s only eighteen miles to Takotna from McGrath.  Many mushers like to take their mandatory 24 hour layover there, if for nothing else but a warm slice of the checkpoint’s famous pie.