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Despite “Little Problems,” John Baker’s Way Out Front

audio by Laureli Kinneen; text by David Dodman

Is this John Baker’s race to lose? The Kotzebue musher doesn’t say so, but he might be in the minority.

Baker was first into the Unalakleet checkpoint this morning, more than two hours ahead of any of the other mushers, and he was greeted by a crowd of well-wishers: among them, Kiana’s Larry Westlake and Iditarod veteran and friend Aaron Burmeister. Baker also won the coveted Gold Coast Award for making it first to the Norton Sound coast; regardless of how he’ll place in this year’s Iditarod, he’ll leave the race with $2,500 of gold nuggets.

As John Baker got settled into Unalakleet, where he ultimately rested for about 4 hours, Burmeister told KNOM’s Laureli Kinneen that Baker’s dogs were “pretty impressive” and that “this is his race.” Westlake went even further, saying that Baker – as a rural Alaskan leading the pack of Iditarod mushers – is “what we’ve been waiting for for 15 years.”

But as Baker himself noted, he’s had “little problems” on the trail. He’s fallen asleep on his sled – and, at times, fallen off of it – and his sled itself has caused him some trouble.

Still, Baker says he expects his runs again to get even better, going forward, and he plans on sticking to his schedule: a schedule that, in a few days, just might win him an Iditarod championship.

Hear John Baker arrive into Unalakleet; KNOM trail reporter Laureli Kinneen has the story:

As of 6pm Sunday, John Baker is in first position; he arrived into Shaktoolik at 2:44pm with 11 dogs. His departure time out of Unalakleet (9:12am) was more than 3 hours ahead of anyone else.