Connecting Alaska to the World And the World to Alaska
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Setting Up for the Iditarod's Required Layover

Emily Schwing

Takotna, AK - Three days into the Iditarod, the race is still anyone’s game. And the mushers are keeping it interesting this year. Martin Buser completed his 24 hour layover early in the race. Lance Mackey and Sonny Linder appear to be embracing the opposite strategy...  making their way down the trail to the Iditarod Checkpoint, which is also the official half way marker in the race.  But many of the veteran mushers decided to stick to a plan they know, resting in the popular village of Takotna.

Snow fell on Martin Buser’s team as he cruised into Takotna and dropped his snowhook.  He only planned to stay long enough to drop two dogs and snack the remaining 14. As the four-time champion switched dogs around, he chatted and sang to them. But he wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone else.  “Let me do my work," he called to KUAC's reporter.  "This is probably not the best time to chat.” He sped off eight minutes after arriving. Buser made an extraordinary early run into Rohn, where he claimed his mandatory 24 hour layover.   12-time finisher Aliy Zirkle says she usually stops in Takotna.  “Takotna’s pretty lush for the mushers as well as the dogs.  It’s exactly like a 300 mile race into it,” she says. The Iditarod is in its 41st year.  But only in the last 15 has it become standard practice to claim 24 hours rest in at the 300 mile mark.  “So you can get a pretty good view of your team as far as 300 miles and then assess your situation,” says Zirkle.

Martin Buser’s strategy is one many mushers used to execute, albeit with a whole lot more rest.  27 teams were snuggled under blankets and bedded down in straw as Buser sped through the race’s eighth checkpoint.  Over the last two days, they’ve all been travelling relatively close together.  “Oh I love it, because over the next 24 hours of leaving here, it won’t be like that anymore,” says John Baker,  HE's run the Iditarod 17 times. "I have a team that’s doing just fine right now," he says.  "So I choose to let them try and do what they think they need to do, because I know what I am dong can work, so I’ll stick with what I know works.”

There are mushers who, like Martin Buser, sped through Takotna to find resting places elsewhere.  Jason Mackey plans to bed his team down in Iditarod.  Lance Mackey says his plan is to head all the way into Anvik. Jake Berkowitz is currently in Ophir resting his team until early Thursday morning.
John Baker says he appreciates all the strategies mushers have for resting on the trail. “It’s so neat first of all Martin competing and doing something different and making things happen," says Baker.  "I absolutely love that.  He’s probably the most experienced musher in the field so anything he does is going to demand a lot of respect, which it should."

16 time finisher Paul Gebhardt says even though mushers are only a third of the way into the race, there is some method to the seeming madness in Takotna.  The first 300 miles is probably the toughest 300 miles as far as conditions go," says Gebhardt.  "When you leave here you’re going uphill so your dog team doesn’t just take off and start loping or something stupid you know they can’t go that fast going uphill so it lets ‘em have time to work out the lactic acid in their body.” Gebhardt also sees the next run to Ophir as a sort of insurance policy.  If one of his dogs has a problem, it’s not so bad to carry it twenty miles.  Once teams leave Ophir, they have another 80 miles before the hit the Iditarod checkpoint.