FINGER LAKE — Martin Buser's wife, Kathy Chapoton, used to keep a copy of the four-time Iditarod champion's run-rest schedule at home whenever Martin hit the trail.
Over the course of three decades of racing, she found she twisted with worry when Buser didn't arrive at checkpoints when expected. Now Chapoton, a teacher, doesn't like to know too much about Buser's plans, she said.
Too bad. Every Iditarod musher on the trail is wondering just what the 54-year-old is up to in his all-out sprint to Rohn.
"He said, 'Don't worry, I'm going to do something different,' " said Chapoton, who is traveling the route by snowmachine with friends. "He said, 'Have faith.' "
Buser is racing with six dogs from his son Rohn's team. The pair combined forces when Rohn withdrew from the racing, giving Martin the pick of the kennel.
This is Buser's 30th Iditarod. He finished 19th in 2012, and has not placed higher than fourth since last winning the race in 2002.
"If he does things and he's not doing well, then he knows he's got to try something else," Chapoton said.
Iditarod veteran Angie Taggart of Ketchikan yelled over her shoulder at Anchorage musher Christine Roalofs. A children's dentist, Roalofs was carrying buckets past sled dogs named for X-Men characters.
"Who makes the Pee Pants?!" Taggart asked.
The two mushers, it seems, are test-driving an invention meant to keep dogsled drivers on the runners and out of outhouses across 1,000 miles.
The inventor, a North Carolina doctor, emailed snowmachine and mushing groups about two years ago, asking for women to help test the pants, Roalofs said.
"I bit," she said.
At least two other musher are using the apparatus -- a mix of bicycle shorts, funnel and a tube that pokes out next to the musher's boot -- this year on the trail.
Roalofs, a rookie, said she's happy to try anything that helps her drink more water and stop less at freezing temperatures, but the target audience is people like flight nurses, she said. "People that can't pee but have to pee."
The inventor is aiming for the general public too, she said. He figures it might help people party longer at tailgate parties.
Injured Abbott fears a scratch
In 2010, Cindy Abbott became the 40th American woman to summit Mount Everest. Running the Iditarod has been harder, she said Monday, just a day into the race.
Abbott said she may not finish the trek to Nome.
Suffering from a rare and incurable disease that damages blood vessels, the rookie musher takes 16 pills a day and is functionally blind in one eye. But it was a wrong turn early in the race by her lead dog, Dred, that put Abbott's Iditarod dream in jeopardy, she said.
About 20 miles from starting line in Willow, Dred aimed for a branching path that Abbott believes is a part of the Junior Iditarod trail.
"He's his own man and he's sure that that was the trail," Abbott said. She yelled to the team -- "Haw!" -- trying to force a U-turn.
"We spun my sled around about three times," Abbott said. "I ended up doing the splits."
Abbott, 54, suspects she tore a muscle. Her right leg is "working at about one-third power," she said.
Abbott managed to control the sled on the 40-run into Finger Lake despite a punchy trail ribbed with trenches, she said. But she worries about her ability to wrestle the dog sled for remaining 800 miles. Abbott planned to nap Monday night and attempt the 30-mile stretch to Rainy Pass overnight.
That leg ends with the infamous Happy River Steps, a series of switchbacks that threaten sleds and bones. If the trip goes well, she'll consider pushing onward to Nome, she said.
"This is really sort of a bummer, because I will scratch if I feel like I can't manage the sled for dog safety," Abbott said.
Finishing a plate of beans, chicken and rice Monday afternoon, she stood slowly, aching. This will be her only shot at finishing the Iditarod, Abbott said.
"Most people with my disease (Wegener's granulomatosis) they are lucky to be able to get out of bed or walk up a flight of stairs," she said.
Pondering Buser's gambit
Pete Kaiser, the 25-year-old young gun who many consider a title contender, figures he's been running this Iditarod on par with John Baker's record-breaking pace in 2011.
He never expected that to put him several hours and a full checkpoint behind the race leader.
"It's kind of crazy to think somebody could be that far ahead of you when you're on this schedule," Kaiser said.
Up-and-coming mushers like Kaiser, of Bethel, and Jake Berkowitz, of Big Lake, wondered around the breakfast table Monday whether leader Martin Buser would take his mandatory 24-hour rest in Rohn. If he somehow held on to win, they said, it could change the way people race the Iditarod.
"We are still not sure what dogs are capable of. It's going to make it more exciting," Kaiser said. "Already has, I guess."