Suzanna Caldwell

Nome's Aaron Burmeister led the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to the icy coast of Alaska's Bering Sea and the checkpoint of Unalakleet on Sunday afternoon, but he didn't get much of a chance to celebrate.

Less than four hours after the frosted, 39-year-old musher received the warm welcome for which the checkpoint is famous, defending champ Dallas Seavey from Willow pulled in behind a string of 12 very strong-looking dogs and was almost as quickly gone into the howling coastal winds...

Craig Medred,Suzanna Caldwell

KALTAG -- Pushing his "little-kid sled" through the woods of Knik, musher Wade Marrs used to pretend he was racing the Iditarod, imagining himself stopping at checkpoints enroute to Nome.

Fast forward to today, where the 24-year-old musher’s dream has become reality. Marrs is racing his fifth Iditarod and passing through those dreamed-of checkpoints in an enviable position.

Marrs was the 11th musher out of Kaltag on Sunday morning, and he’d been hopping in and out of the top 10 over the last several days. With his short-run, short-rest strategy, Marrs appeared to be setting up his team of 11 remaining dogs for a strong run over the last 300 miles of the race...

Suzanna Caldwell

KOYUKUK -- Ask the mushers pulling into the Koyukuk checkpoint how the 82 miles between here and Huslia were and they'll give you one answer: cold.

"I'm freezing," said Norwegian musher Joar Leifseth Ulsom.

While thermometers read minus 10, it seemed twice as cold in the Koyukuk dog lot nestled on the banks of the Yukon River. Cold temperatures appear to be a constant in this year's race, though mushers coming into the checkpoint seemed to agree that Saturday had been the worst of it.

Ulsom said the Yukon Quest, which had temperatures dip to minus 50, felt like "nothing" compared to the run he had coming in to Koyukuk.

"This felt 10 times colder," he said...

Suzanna Caldwell

HUSLIA -- For sled builder Dan Schlosser, the weeks leading up to Iditarod 43 were a whirlwind.

Not because the Willow-based owner of Sled Dog Systems LLC was working to build more race sleds but because he was busy filling orders for 4-foot-long sled dog carriers that attach to the backs of racing sleds.

“We could have built a lot more, but it was too short notice,” he said at the Fairbanks restart last week...

Suzanna Caldwell

HUSLIA -- As school children ran around the dog lot here asking for autographs or pictures from the half-dozen mushers that had pulled in to the halfway point of the race, the mushers themselves seemed a little star-struck.

While children ran around with the Huslia pennants and clipboards searching for autographs, so did some of the mushers. Ken Anderson carried around a Huslia sweatshirt that had been signed by Rose Ambrose, sister of the late George Attla, the champion dog driver known as the “Huslia Husler.” Ambrose appeared in the film “Spirit of the Wind,” a film feature film documenting Attla’s life...

Suzanna Caldwell

HUSLIA -- With Iditarod coming to town, this tiny village did its best to make itself seem at least three times as big.

About 300 people live in the Koyukon Athabascan village, but for those lined up along the street leading to the Huslia dog yard and cheering in race leader Aaron Burmeister -- the first Iditarod racer ever to arrive in the mushing mecca of Huslia -- it felt a whole lot bigger.

“This is like winning the Iditarod,” Burmeister said of the enthusiastic crowd as he bedded down his dogs, surrounded by the hundreds of villagers that came out to watch him be first into the checkpoint...

Suzanna Caldwell

RUBY -- Subzero temperatures and a bitter wind chill got the best of rookie musher Ben Harper’s nose Thursday morning along the Iditarod race trail. It was frostbitten, white and peeling. Harper covered it with a thick coat of Vaseline for protection and to help it heal.

Despite the gnarly appearance, the 18-year-old musher insisted his nose was fine. What bugged him more were the blue jeans he wore under his snow gear. They provided little insulation against 20- to 30-below-zero cold.

“I’m never wearing these again,” he told mushers gathered in the Ruby checkpoint, laughing when ribbed about rookie mistakes...

Suzanna Caldwell

Yuka Honda tells the story of her dog team getting tangled up on the Iditarod race trail, only to have four-time champion Jeff King come along and run over her sled, rendering it unusable....

Suzanna Caldwell

RUBY -- Kotzebue musher Chuck Schaeffer keeps it short when it comes to words. He focuses on tending to his dogs, seldom striking up conversations with nearby mushers.

But on Thursday morning, as he watched his dogs rest on a hill above the Yukon River, he was feeling the cold, even shivering now and then. He didn’t hesitate to remind people.

“Can you make it warm up?” he asked an Alaska Dispatch News reporter, pointing toward the clear blue sky. While temperatures hovered near minus 10 in the Yukon River village of about 150 people, Schaeffer and other mushers were still having flashbacks from the night before, when even lower temperatures, compounded by a “blowhole,” made for a fierce wind chill...

Suzanna Caldwell

The 119-mile stretch of trail between Tanana and Ruby might be long, but it wasn’t lonely.

As mushers left the Tanana checkpoint, many pondered how they would break up the run. Not even experienced racers will attempt to make the journey in one long run at this point in the race, so the decision of when to break it up -- and where to camp -- was the topic of many a conversation among mushers.

But many found an oasis at the Kokrine Hills Bible Camp about 65 miles north of Tanana -- almost exactly halfway between the two checkpoints. There, Carole Huntington and her husband Roger opened their home at the camp to mushers making the long haul between the two towns...

Suzanna Caldwell