UNALAKLEET -- As the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race sped up the Bering Sea Coast Sunday night, four-time champ Jeff King was here resting his team and laughing at the twists of fate.
On leaving Kaltag, about 85 miles back along the trail, his team looked so good he started dreaming of what color truck he would pick out at the finish line in Nome this year, he said.
The winner of the 1,000-mile race this year running from Fairbanks to Nome gets a new Dodge in addition to a $70,000 in prize money. But just 30 miles out, near the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Tripod Flats cabin, King's team started to sputter, or to put it bluntly, "profusely pooping" King said.
The veteran musher decided it was a good time to stop for a break.
His mantra through this race has been to avoid any temptations to chase and keep his dog team looking "fabulous." They looked good here.
The 59-year-old musher looked wind-blown and tired. He occasionally tripped and stumbled around the dog lot, taking an ax to a frozen chunk of ground salmon to break it into chunks to feed his dogs.
For a moment, he conceded that the sled-dog dragon he had hoped to unleash on the Bering Sea coast was looking "more like a lizard." Still, he expressed confidence his team would be back to fighting strength after a few hours rest and a good meal or two in the checkpoint.
He seemed in no rush to chase race leaders Dallas Seavey, the defending and two-time champ from Willow, and Nome's Aaron Burmeister out onto the trail to Shaktoolik.
"I'm not hurrying out of here, I guarantee you that," he told a scrum of reporters gathered around. "I am prepared once I get going to go a long way, but I'm not going to hurry because somebody did something you weren't expecting."
Eventually, though, King gave chase, leaving Unalakleet at 1:47 a.m. Monday, according to the race's official standings, after a rest of nearly five and a half hours.