TAKOTNA — A snowy hill in the village of Takotna was transformed into a sled-dog parking lot Wednesday as some Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race teams settled in for 24-hour breaks.
The dozens of dogs ate and slept during the race’s longest required pause. They also got hooked up to leashes and walked by their mushers around the community, in temperatures around 30 degrees.
For so many dogs in one place, it was remarkably quiet.
Meet five of the Iditarod dogs taking a rest here Wednesday at Mile 329 of the 1,000-mile race. These dogs prefer to run at the front of the pack.
Monroe is “pretty feisty,” said Aniak musher Richie Diehl.
She likes to jab and play with the dog she’s running next to, and “it gets everybody else fired up,” Diehl said. “It’s kind of fun to watch.”
In the dog yard at home, Monroe is rambunctious, he said. She’s the one barking, nipping at her partners and playing. She seems to have nonstop energy.
Monroe hasn’t really been a leader in the past, but this year she’s trying out the job. She moves at a good pace, Diehl said, and she likes to go, well, forward.
She’s still figuring out the commands “gee” (for right) and “haw” (for left). If she’s with the right teammate, she’ll turn. But if not, “she’s just going straight,” Diehl said.
This is Monroe’s second Iditarod and Diehl’s seventh.
Sable is 8 years old and this is her 14th 1,000-mile race, said Ester musher Paige Drobny.
Sable just finished the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race with Drobny about a month ago. Drobny didn’t plan to bring Sable on this year’s Iditarod. She thought she’d give her a break.
“But every time I left the yard with a team of dogs, she was screaming at me, so here she is,” said Drobny, a four-time Iditarod finisher.
According to Sable’s profile on Drobny’s and her husband’s kennel website: Sable “wags her tail like a cat and sounds like a seagull when she barks!”
Sable is just a great dog, Drobny said. She’s shy around other people but “super loyal” to Drobny and her husband, Cody Strathe. In the morning, she comes into their bed for a “10-minute snuggle session,” Drobny said.
“Basically she lives inside and she’s just at my feet all the time. She follows me around everywhere,” Drobny said. “She’s just really wiggly and quiet.”
This is Sable’s seventh Iditarod. If not running in lead, she’s positioned close to the front of the team.
Skye is a little bit shy.
The 3-year-old Iditarod rookie likes to run fast and gives the team an extra burst of speed, said Bethel musher Pete Kaiser, a nine-time Iditarod finisher. She just needs to gain some experience as a leader.
“She led from Nikolai most of the way here,” Kaiser said. “But she’s still a little, like, not super confident in what she’s doing.”
Skye is named after a character in the animated television series “PAW Patrol.” Ever since Kaiser’s son was born, most every litter has been named after a cartoon, he said. Ari, who’s now 6, helps pick the themes.
Before becoming a dad, Kaiser named his dogs after boxers and snowboard brands, his wife, Bethany, said in a message to ADN. She added: “Funny how being a dad changes things!!”
Also on Kaiser’s team: Charlie, Pig-Pen, Lucy and Frieda, named after characters in the “Peanuts” comic.
Chisto used to run at the back of the team, and he used to be a pretty bad eater, said Yukon musher Ed Hopkins.
In retrospect, Hopkins said, he thinks Chisto was trying to send a message to the humans: Put me up front.
The 5-year-old husky started running in lead last year, and he’s really great at it, Hopkins said. He also now likes to eat.
“Across glare ice, you can gee and haw him,” Hopkins said. “He will jump across creeks, like literally jump, and everybody has to follow because he’s so big and strong.”
Chisto weighs about 65 pounds, Hopkins said.
Hopkins also described Chisto as quiet, unassuming and “real lovable.” Chisto is short for Chistochina. He’s from a litter named after rivers.
This is Chisto’s and Hopkins’ first Iditarod.
Carhartt is Two Rivers musher Matt Hall’s “new star,” he said.
“He’s a little rock star of a lead dog,” Hall said. “Never fights. Never chews. He’s just one of those always happy, always willing to please dogs.”
Carhartt is 3 years old and this is his second Iditarod. The past two years, he’s run the Quest and Iditarod back to back.
As Hall talked, Carhartt sat on a pile of straw and stared back at him. “Right now, he’s just like, ‘Hey, Dad. What’s going on?’” Hall said.
Sure, Carhartt is easygoing. But one thing he is picky about: If he’s not in lead, he has to run on the left side of the team, “which is really weird,” Hall said.
If Hall puts Carhartt on the right side, he’ll slip under the line to get to the left and crowd his teammate.
“Then after five minutes he’ll come back to his side, and then a minute later he ducks back under,” Hall said.
Want to meet more Iditarod sled dogs? Check out this story.