Takotna -- Some mushers take their mandatory 24-hour layover in this picturesque village overlooking the Takotna River because it fits their Iditarod race strategy. Others come for Jan Newton's home-baked pies and all the steak you can eat.
Longtime residents Jan and Dick Newton have for years organized Takotna's 75 or so residents to welcome Iditarod mushers.
What a welcome they get.
Village residents arrange bales of hay and 9,000 pounds of dog food around the sled-dog rest stop. Mushers can get warmed water from barrels in the dog lot. And the sleeping accommodations are some of the best along the trail. Dog drivers can choose between the church, the library or a house in which to crash.
The church is popular, because it's quiet. But some come there for spiritual reasons, too.
Mike Williams, the sobriety musher from Aniak, said he likes to sleep in the church and finds Takotna a "good, peaceful spot."
"I sleep right under the cross," Williams said. "That's where I sleep best."
Musher Sonny King from Spartanburg, N.C., gravitates to the church as well.
"It comes back to that divine intervention thing," he said, referring to a remark he made the day before about how he came through the rough run between Rohn and Nikolai relatively unhurt while around him people were crashing.
King, who ought to know a thing or two about hospitality given his Southern heritage, said he looks forward to his time in Takotna. He even ships pecans to Newton before the race each year so she can bake pecan pies.
King said Iditarod mushers get waited on hand and foot in this checkpoint.
"Not you, dude," Newton shot back as she shuttled between talking to mushers, giving orders to fellow volunteers and cooking in the kitchen.
Most meals served at the Takotna community hall come with a side of ribbing from Newton.
All of the villages along the Iditarod trail go out of their way to host mushers as they pass through. But Takotna has earned a special reputation because just about every resident pitches in. From checker to chef, Newton said, each person has a job.
"We have a joke here that we get volunteered" by Jan Newton, said Tabatha Huffman, a 16-year-old who attends high school in Iowa but comes home every year for the Iditarod.
Takotna is home to about 25 adults and 50 children in the winter. Some of the kids come from nearby villages to attend a charter school. The population swells in the summertime when miners move in to work the nearby Ophir gold field. Newton said most of the children want to check the mushers in and out or haul water because they get to drive snowmachines. But first-timers have to start at the bottom of the ladder.
"You have to start as a pooper scooper," she said.
Some veteran mushers, like DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow and Martin Buser of Big Lake, said they usually take their 24-hour rest further down the trail. But this year, because the Iditarod discontinued a food drop in the next checkpoint at Ophir, options were more limited.
They were left with a decision between stopping at Takotna or pressing on for the ghost town of Iditarod, 125 miles farther north. The accommodations in Iditarod are wall-tent minimal.
They opted to stay in Takotna.
Others are more loyal to the village. Anna Bondarenko, who ran the Iditarod last year, was here Tuesday to join her husband, Jim Lanier of Chugiak, during his layover. She said Lanier, a four-time Iditarod veteran, tries to stop in Takotna every time he races.
"His whole race strategy is they have steaks here," Bondarenko said.
Lanier, who was outside feeding his dogs, reported that his strategy was 100 percent successful this year, just as it is every year. After taking care of his dogs, he ate a nice big meal of steak and eggs shortly after arriving into Takotna at 7:35 a.m. Then he took a good long nap.
Reporter Elizabeth Manning can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4323.