Iditarod

Where are those headphones? Deep snow makes for sometimes boring ride in Iditarod

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TAKOTNA — Three-time Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey sat at the community hall here Wednesday finishing a cheeseburger in the middle of his 24-hour break.

Outside, the sun shone bright. Dozens of sled dogs lay curled in straw and temperatures hovered in the 30s. For the second straight day on the trail, mushers worked on their sleds and fed their dogs without gloves on.

They shrugged off heavy jackets. They chatted about the temperatures, so high for sled dog racing. And, mostly, they talked about the deep snow blanketing the trail.

No snow is bad news. But too much, it turns out, can be boring. It can feel like running through deep sand. It slows the team down.

"It goes from deep snow to really deep snow to basically bottomless," said Willow musher Ramey Smyth, who pulled into Takotna with all 16 dogs at 4:37 a.m. Wednesday.

Mike Williams Jr. of Akiak wore a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt as he walked among the resting dog teams, chatting with competitors. Many, like Seavey, elected to take their mandatory 24-hour rest in Takotna, a village that's home to about 75 people on mile 329 of the Iditarod trail. It's known for its homemade pies and ready-made burgers.

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Mushers here ate and banked sleep, expecting to get little rest again until Nome.

"They feed us here, they treat us really well," Seavey, 58, said. "I just had my second cheeseburger after a breakfast burrito — not all at once."

With about a third of the Iditarod behind them, Seavey and other mushers here said that nothing that eventful had happened to them on the trail so far. In fact, yawning sections of trail with deep snow left them a bit exasperated at times.

Seavey said he rarely listens to music, but faced with a long, slow stretch of trail out of the previous checkpoint of McGrath on Tuesday night, about 18 miles away from Takotna, he plugged in his headphones.

"We left McGrath and the trail was the way it was and I'm thinking, 'This is just going to be awful. I think I'm going to listen to some music, take my mind off of it,' " Seavey said.

Kelly Maixner, a dentist who lives in Big Lake, said he thought the same thing.

"I don't ever listen to anything hardly at all," he said. "But I got out there on the trail, and about a half-hour into it, and I was like, 'Oh God, this sucks. I've got to do something to pass the time, because this is so slow.' "

So Maixner listened to an audiobook: The 1985 science fiction novel "Ender's Game."

Kelly Maixner massages one of his dogs at the Takotna checkpoint on Wednesday. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Wednesday afternoon, Maixner looked over each of his 16 sled dogs, massaging their shoulders and wrists. He wore a neon-orange fanny pack where he kept dog care items like oils and wrist wraps.

"You jealous, man?" Maixner asked Bethel musher Pete Kaiser, pointing to the fanny pack. "My wife got it for me. She's obsessed with fanny packs."

Nearby, Kaiser tossed his dogs frozen chunks of sheefish. He described the trail as "frustrating" at points.

"A run that would normally take 5.5 hours, takes 7.5 hours," he said.

Jessie Royer, who splits her time between Fairbanks and Montana, said the abundant snow meant the trail required less technical sled driving.

While "nothing extreme has happened so far," she said, it's still early in the race.

"Hey, it's the Iditarod and we haven't hit the coast yet or the river, and who knows what weather we're going to get into — winds, whiteouts, snowing," she said. "We could have another two feet of snow and we'll all be swimming to Nome."

"I just don't know what we'll going to get into."

A musher makes their way to Takotna on Wednesday. (Loren Holmes / ADN)