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Wednesday, 3/10/2004 - Takotna a.m.
Overcast but clear enough to fly. Temps about 10 degrees f.
Paul flew out at first light to try to get a sled into Rohn for Rick Swenson. We joined the big crowd at the Takotna Checkpoint for breakfast. You don't need coffee for a eye-opener, try $15.00 for eggs, hashbrowns, toast or pancakes. It's pretty much $15.00 for everything except the $20.00 diner special.
Doug Swingley, Mike Williams, Paul Gebhardt, Ed Iten, Kjetil Backen, Dee Dee Jonrowe, rookie Hugh Neff, Aaron Burmeister, Vern Halter and maybe more filled the tables. Jan Newton and her family and friends were cooking non-stop in the tiny kitchen seasoning the meals with plenty of good-humored banter. The mushers are fed for free if they autograph a big stack of race programs for the local volunteers.
Kjetil was the first musher into Takotna last night to the cheers and songs of his flag waving, banner carrying countrymen. Kjetil stayed. Martin Buser and Jeff King checked in and out, stopping further down the trail to camp.
Paul Gebhardt said of his eighth Iditarod, it was his worst trip down the Happy River Steps and Dalzell Gorge. Most mushers felt the trail was banked backwards... maybe because the Iron Dog snowmachine race was run in the opposite direction this year. Starting in Fairbanks and running to Nome, then Anchorage they'd be climbing the gorge, not descending as the mushers did. Ramey Smyth's sled bag was sliced, spilling it's guts along the steps. Candy bars and gear littered the drop.
Most teams coming into Takotna are still running with 15 or 16 dogs which is great to see. Maybe the good early snow and long training season conditioned the dogs better, but the race is definitely faster this year and the dogs seem to be fairing better.
Sadly Doug Swingley just scratched. He had laser eye surgery earlier this year and apparently the combination of cold and wind and not wearing goggles caused some potentially serious problems so he reluctantly, but wisely, loaded his team and flew out of Takotna. It's just after 12:00 noon and I'll stand in line for a computer so we can get this news out to you...more later.
For more information about Ellie and her home at Ultima Thule Lodge you can visit their web site at www.ultimathulelodge.com
More information about Ellie Claus can be found on the Iditarod web site www.iditarod.com
©2004 Jon & Jona Van Zyle
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