Iditarod 2013 - Race comes to Kaltag

2011 Iditarod champion John Baker mushes past open water along the Yukon river before Kaltag. March 9, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
A musher makes their way up the Yukon river to the Eagle Island checkpoint. March 9, 2013
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A musher makes their way up the Yukon river past the Eagle Island checkpoint. March 9, 2013
Two teams mush toward Kaltag. March 9, 2013
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An Iditarod air force plane makes its way from Kaltag to Eagle Island. March 9, 2013
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Norwegian rookie Joar Leifseth Ulsom mushes toward Kaltag. March 9, 2013
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Three teams make their way up the Yukon river to Kaltag. March 9, 2013
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A dog in Mike Ellis' team soaks up the sun in Anvik. March 9, 2013
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Martin Buser sleeping in the empty Kaltag checkpoint. March 9, 2013
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A dog in Mitch Seavey's team relaxes in Kaltag. March 9, 2013
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Aaron Burmeister, foreground, and Jake Berkowitz arrive in Kaltag. March 9, 2013
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Aaron Burmeister pulls into Kaltag. March 9, 2013
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Aaron Burmeister tends to his dogs in Kaltag. March 9, 2013
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A dog in Aaron Burmeister's team, at Kaltag. March 9, 2013
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Aaron Burmeister tends to his dogs in Kaltag. March 9, 2013
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Jake Berkowitz mushes off the Yukon river and into Kaltag. March 9, 2013
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Jake Berkowitz tends to his dogs in Kaltag. March 9, 2013
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Four dogs in Jake Berkowitz' team rest in Kaltag. March 9, 2013
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Rookie Joar Leifseth Ulsom arrives in Kaltag. March 9, 2013
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Loren Holmes,Suzanna Caldwell

That terrible trail mushers worried about became a reality Saturday, as mushers made their final push down the Yukon River.

It was all the talk of the mushers. Mitch Seavey, the second in to the checkpoint, who told checkers immediately that there's “not much solid
trail out there.”

The 2004 champs wheel dogs stretched out in temperatures in the 20s, biting off balls of ice on their feet and chomping at bits of snow on the ground.

Temperatures were cooling from highs in the 40 yesterday, but the sun still blazed down on the teams in the small community and the last checkpoint on the Yukon River.

Seavey is closing the gap Buser – who's fast push at the beginning is starting to show faults. Mushers have slowly been reeling the four-time champ in, though no one seemed to have too many concerns over the competition.

“I haven't paid much attention to anyone but myself,” Seavey said. “I'm about right-on my schedule.”

Seavey was followed closely by a pack of three mushers that included Aaron Burmeister, Jake Berkowitz and rookie Joar Leifseth Ulsom.

Surprisingly not into the checkpoint was Aliy Zirkle, 2012 runner up. Mushers noted she had camped outside the checkpoint, though why was unclear.
“I have no idea why she was parked there,” said Berkowitz. “That's going to be a massive run into Unalakleet.”

Berkowitz bedded down his dogs and immediately went to liberally smearing pink ointment between the pads of their feet. He said his dogs feet were probably more red and swollen than usual. Berkowitz had to forgo booties on the wet trail, with the booties only turning the dogs feet into ice balls.
Berkowitz still has 15 dogs, nearly a full team. While said he has no intention of dropping a dog soon, he said having that many dogs is a risk. One miscalculation and you're hauling a dog for dozens of miles.

Still, Berkowitz had confidence in dogs.

“If a guy like Martin or Aaron of Mitch was driving my dog team, it wouldn't be a question – they would win the race” Berkowitz said. “I'm
known for not extending past my capabilities. I'm not going to start now just to win a dog race.”