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Mushers and Sled Dogs Start to Show Signs of Fatigue on the Yukon River

Emily Schwing

Nulato, AK - Iditarod mushers kept volunteers in the Nulato checkpoint busy overnight. Some teams that weren’t expected to stay grabbed a few hours rest in the sleepy Yukon River village, while others decided to move along.

Martin Buser says his dog team didn’t have much of a challenge travelling down the Yukon River this year. “They were bored getting down that trail slow and steady and kind of a punchy, drifted trail.” says Buser. His quiet team curled up for a nap almost immediately after they arrived in Nulato.  Sonny Lindner arrived shortly after.  His dogs wolfed down the food he offered.  He says his dog team is showing signs of fatigue from the early rough trail.
“That trail was really rough at the start and once you get on the good going, and everybody starts trotting right along then all those places that got sore earlier start showing up.” says Lindner.
Lindner spent his eight hour mandatory rest massaging sore shoulders and wrapping sore wrists. He could have waited to rest long in Kaltag, but he says Nulato is much quieter.

Checkpoint volunteers were surprised when Aliy Zirkle announced she planned to stay for a few hours in. Her team came in alert, tails wagging. She stopped to make what she calls a “significant force reduction.”
“I had to reduce my squad by two dogs: Joe Schmoe and Scruggs," she says, "So, we made a significant equipment reduction. I just lost about 40 pounds off the back of my sled.”

Zirkle left behind all kinds of gear she doesn’t think she’ll need.  She says 12 dogs is actually the perfect number, plus it’s eight fewer feet to booty, two personalities less to deal with and a little less food to carry. As for the river travel, Zirkle says what’s normally a monotonous run seemed to go by quickly.
“Yeah, I don’t feel like the river’s been that long for me this time,” says Zirkle.

As teams come off the Yukon in Kaltag, they’ll tackle what is a reportedly snow free trail in place all the way to Unalakleet, but that’s nothing new for mushers this year. [On the Iditarod Trail, I’m Emily Schwing in Nulato.]