RUBY -- Using a headlamp as he prepped his team before dawn Friday, Sonny Lindner waited for his 24-hour layover to expire and chatted with locals. His construction company, Johnson River Enterprises, remodeled the village school here last summer.
Lindner said he planned to take only one long break on the Yukon before Unalakleet and the Norton Sound coast, other than stops to feed the dogs along the way.
"We'll see how that works," Lindner said, walking from dog to dog, his boots crunching in the snow.
It minus-15 with a slight breeze. The sky just barely started to lighten over the Yukon River.
Jeff King and Lindner surprised some race watchers by mushing all the way to the Yukon before taking their mandatory 24-hour layover. Lindner said he had thought about going farther until experiecing the roughness of the Dalzell Gorge and Farewell Burn, which knocked many teams out of the race.
"Looking back at it, to have given 'em a rest right after that might've been better," he said. "I wasn't prepared to do that, but just after the kind of run we had -- I mean, I got through there in one piece, but I had a couple sore dogs a day or two later."
The huskies look fine now, Lindner said.
"It was real nice just traveling along," he said. "There weren't a lot of teams. Kind of out there by ourself. It was nice."
Lindner confirmed rumors that he planned to retire from sled dog racing after getting to Nome.
"Oh yeah. I am retired," he said. "I'm going to be more retired shortly. Gotta give these young guys a chance to do this more."
"Are you going to go out with a bang?" he was asked.
"You mean explode or what? Catch fire?" Linder said, smiling and chuckling.
"No, not literally. I mean do you have a shot at winning it?"
"I just want to be there," he said. "I guess I want to be there fast."
Parked next to Lindner was Nicolas Petit, the 2011 Rookie of the Year. As Lindner's departure time approached, Petit hustled to throw away trash and shove a few items in his sled bag before his eight-hour layover ended.
"Am I late yet?" Petit asked race official Raine Hall.
"No, you got one minute," Hall said.
Petit, as always, asked his dogs if they were ready and whistled to them. The dogs stood up. Petit looked back to where his gear had been on the snow.
"I better take my parka," he said, running back to get the coat he'd forgotten, then letting his dogs pull him down a hill to the river and out of town.
Dash and dine
Jeff King's decision to run all the way to Ruby before taking his 24-hour layover created a scramble to get everything in place for the gourmet meal served to the first musher to reach the Yukon River.
King arrived at 6:41 a.m. Thursday. It wasn't dinnertime, of course, so it wasn't until a little after 5 p.m. that chef Bobby Sidro, with race sponsor Millenium Alaskan Hotel, served up dinner for King and Raine Hall, the former Iditarod executive director and Ruby resident.
On the menu, along with wine and champagne pairings:
• Sablefish and blue mussel stew and king crab Cajun bruschetta with cream cheese, chives, shallots, garlic and seasonings.
• Baby arugula and smoked spotted shrimp salad with toasted pine nuts, sliced avocado, grated parmesan cheese, cherry tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts and champagne vinaigrette dressing.
• Peppercorn-crusted filet mignon and fried oysters on a cabernet sauce, with sockeye salmon lox and caviar potato pancakes, baby carrots and zucchini flowers.
• Roasted pear crème brulee tart.
As King and Hall finished the filet, they applauded the chef.
"Where did you go to school?" King asked.
"Nowhere," Sidro said, adding that he started with chef Al Levinsohn of the Kincaid Grill.
"Will you come to moose camp with us?" King asked.
Later, Sidro said he has worked for the Millenium "on and off" for about 20 years. It was his first time in Ruby, said Sidro, who flew to Anvik last year, when the race used the southern route.
Flyi in small planes has made him nervous, though, to the point he passes out, Sidro said.
Working in front of TV cameras and onlookers, including his boss, adds a bit of pressure to the occasion, Sidro said.
"It scares me more than the plane," he said.
Ramey Smyth's streak ends
Willow musher Ramey Smyth, a perennial contender who notched five consecutive top-10 finishes in a row before falling to 20th place in 2013, is out of the 2014 Iditarod.
Race officials say Smyth, 38, scratched at 1:50 p.m. today in Ruby. Down to 12 dogs, he told checkpoint volunteers "that he had an illness in his team and was concerned for the welfare of his dogs," according to a race spokeswoman.
Known for his turbo-charged finishes, Smyth placed third in the 2012 race and second in 2011, posting the second-fastest ever Iditarod finish behind record-breaking John Baker of Kotzebue.
John Dixon of Fairbanks, back in the race for the first time since his 2000 rookie run, also scratched Friday.
Fifteen mushers are out of the race, leaving a field of 54.
Complete Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race coverage
By CASEY GROVE