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At race’s start, rural Alaskans eye the trail ahead

Late last week, in Anchorage, Iditarod rookie Richie Diehl – an up-and-comer from Aniak, Alaska – admitted that his mood was finally turning from anxiety to, just maybe, a bit of excitement.

He wasn’t the only one. Despite the myriad challenges that every Iditarod musher faces before hitting the trail, hometown mushers from rural Alaska – Diehl, Pete Kaiser, Mike Williams, Jr., and Aaron Burmeister – all struck a note of cautious optimism.

Feeling excited for one’s first Iditarod, Diehl told KNOM reporter Laureli Kinneen, is a challenge “when you have so much to do leading up to the start.” But, he said, “I’m finally feeling like I’m ready to go now.”

His “big goal” for his first race: “learn how to care for the dogs.”

 

Unlike Richie Diehl, Aaron Burmeister is hardly a rookie to the Iditarod. The Nome-bred musher is an experienced veteran of the Last Great Race, and while he stopped short of making any specific predictions, he seemed upbeat for this 2013 prospects.

Burmeister was full of superlatives in describing his dog team this year – “they’re all looking like a million bucks” – and was eager to “get the race happening.”

 

Coming off of an impressive, 8th-place finish in the 2012 Iditarod, 27-year-old Mike Williams, Jr. was characteristically humble when sizing up his 2013 run.

In his interview with Laureli Kinneen, the musher from Akiak, Alaska was far more interested in talking about his dogs than about himself.

“(I) go by the dogs,” Mike says. “Wouldn’t do it any other way.”

As for his 2013 prospects, the younger Williams (his father, Mike Williams, Sr., is also a 2013 Iditarod musher) cited training challenges leading up to this year’s race but seemed buoyed by the health of his team. “They’re looking pretty good,” Mike, Jr. says:

 

In Anchorage, Bethel’s Pete Kaiser detailed some of the challenges in crafting a dog team for the Last Great Race. “It’s always hard to get your best 16 dogs to the starting line of Iditarod,” the 25-year-old musher told KNOM’s Laureli Kinneen.

The two-time champion of the Norton Sound 450 (in 2012 and 2013) said that he hoped to make improvements in his team’s Iditarod performance this year, especially in the first half of the race, when a team’s pacing can set the stage for later success.

His strategy for this year? “Get to Nome as fast as we can safely get there.”

 

As of Sunday evening, Richie Diehl, Aaron Burmeister, Mike Williams, Jr., and Pete Kaiser are all reported out of the Willow checkpoint. Based purely on the order of Sunday’s race re-start (from Willow), the mushers are in 63rd, 23rd, 44th, and 9th positions, respectively.