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In Takotna, Lead Mushers Stay Humble

text by David Dodman; audio by Laureli Kinneen

“It’s early,” Hugh Neff says. “Anything can happen.”

With half of the Iditarod trail still to go, it’s a mentality that most mushers seem to share: even Neff and Martin Buser, who – when considering the mandatory layover time they’ve already finished – emerge as the current front-runners.

Neff caught up with KNOM trail reporter Laureli Kinneen during his 24-hour layover in Takotna, where he conceded that this year’s race “hasn’t been (his) most enjoyable.” With regards to the rest of the trail, Neff says he hopes to “hunker down this year and stay focused.” But mostly, he says “it’s all up to Annie” (his main lead dog) and “pure luck”:

Martin Buser also says it’s too early to predict a winner yet: whether for himself or anyone else. There’s “a lot of Iditarod still to be had yet,” the four-time champion said in Takotna in his interview with Laureli. In the meantime, Buser’s focusing on “do(ing) the right thing by my dogs” and catering his mushing on the ability of his “relative weakest” dog.

Buser also explained why he likes having to shovel dog poop:

As of 5:37pm Thursday, Martin Buser is in 3rd position, having arrived into the Iditarod checkpoint at 10:41am with 14 dogs. Hugh Neff is 4th; he arrived at Iditarod at 11:26am with 13 dogs.

Among the mushers who’ve completed their 24-hour layovers, Buser and Neff are at the lead of the race – for now.