3PM Martin Buser into Kaltag
Martin led the pack into kaltag with a bright sun, 20F temperature, a fresh stiff wind blowing on the high north bank of the Yukon. The village of kaltag overlooks the Yukon, a constant companion for a population that looks to the river for drift wood in the spring, salmon runs through out the summer, and with its myriad sloughs and tributaries an access to fall hunting. In winter it is the main highway between villages, trails leading to vast flood plains rich for trapping and hunting.
Martin came up a steep slip to the village, dogs trotting to the checkpoint. After the assault by media, radio, tv, I had a chance to talk to Martin. The trip was very difficult and demanding. He and team hit rain and warm temperatures to Eagle and struggled on very soft trail. “There was nothing we could do because the trail would never set up.” When I talked to trail breakers they described it as “mash potatoes.”
Standing by the checkpoint by Martin’s just arrived team,The Anchorage Daily News reporter asked me what question I would ask. Mine was, “When we will he ask where the pack is?” But I said, he will say that he is only driving his own team and it doesn’t matter where the others are. When asked , Martin replied, “I have been in a vacuum . There weren’t any checkpoint times in Eagle Island, and I haven’t seen anyone for 60 miles.” When I saw him I asked about the difficulty of keeping to the front when the pack was attacking. “It’s very difficult,” and I think he instinctively knew that ground had been gained on him without looking at the time sheets.
Martin is known for his trademark efficiency in checkpoints. He laid out straw, offered dry kibble and then massaged each foot with a lotion while the vets examined each dog. When I saw him next in an octogonal log community building serving as the mushers quarters for sleeping , drying clothes next to the woodstove on chairs, he was quickly laying out his bag on a bench for anap.
Martin made a bold play in the early going of the race that has tested his ability to husband a dog team. I think the soft tough trail on the Yukon, with its indifference to a dog team, was one of those herculean tests. With good trail, Martin could very well be on his way to Unalakleet. So, there was a little exhaustion in his voice. After a good rest he can size up the following pack and make his next move. Naturally he wants to give his team plenty of rest after an 11 hour effort, but he doesn’t want to leave anything on the table.
The following pack
The following pack has brought Buser back to them, but they still havent passed him, a more difficult task than actually catching a view of him as he leaves Kaltag. I note on the gps tracker that we have Burmeister, Royer, Berkowitz, and Mitch Seavey into Kaltag but no times on the official Iditarod checkpoint times. Nevertheless, we can be sure that the pursuing pack has gained some time on Buser. Have to check that out and go talk to the mushers.
Look at the way Dallas Seavy is suddenly making a move. This is the way he likes to play it. He has stated on many occassions that he has studied times and wants to set up the team for a push in the last half of the race. Maybe he’s making a play. Mitch Seavey, his dad, also made a big play which I will attempt to decipher by talking to Mitch.
*********Sebastian and I just had a big skull session and looked at the times. Mitch Seavey, Aaron, Jake Berkowitz, and Aliy (even though she stopped on the trail to rest, must be because she wanted to stop at eight hours and run no more, but we will see her later tonight) are all in a big knot. They are not giving an inch to each other, but they made 2 1/2 hours on Buser.
Somebody in the knot broke trails for the others. I wonder who? The trail breaker will not forget if there wasn’t sharing of duties and will attempt to shake the others, especially if big winds through drifts into tonights trail.