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Buser holds lead, heading up the coast

March 10, 1997

UNALAKLEET, Alaska (AP) _ Martin Buser headed up the frozen coast of Norton Sound under a brilliant blue sky Sunday, leaving his closest competitors in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race with little hope of catching him.

Buser, of Big Lake, left at 1:02 p.m. with lead dogs Blondie and Fearless at the front of an 11-dog team. He was headed for Shaktoolik, 58 miles up the trail.

``Unless some weather slows him down, he’s definitely on a roll,″ defending champion Jeff King said as he covered his sleeping dogs with blankets to shield them from the biting wind for which this coastal community is known. ``His team seems to have peaked. They look great.″

Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont., agreed that ``only if something happens″ did he have a chance of outrunning Buser.

Swingley left Unalakleet in second place at 2:42 p.m. with 9 dogs. King, of Denali Park, remained behind late Sunday afternoon.

The mushers have had ideal conditions _ clear skies and cold temperatures _ for the first 900 miles of the race. Barring any storms, Buser is setting a pace that could put him at the finish line of the 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome sometime Tuesday.

Dee Dee Jonrowe of Willow arrived in Unalakleet at 1:54 p.m. Jonrowe is a perennial top finisher who has managed to stay near the front of the pack, despite a car wreck last October that killed her grandmother and left her and her husband, Mike, with serious injuries.

``I didn’t have a clue what I was going to be able to do. I’m very happy,″ Jonrowe said as she fed her dogs a snack of frozen salmon, amid a crowd of spectators.

Farther back in the pack, while Buser was resting in Unalakleet, there were a half-dozen mushers sitting back in Kaltag, mumbling ``if only.″

``This is not exactly what I had in mind,″ Tim Osmar of Kasilof said after reaching the checkpoint in seventh place. ``I got behind the eight-ball on the first day and there was no way to catch up to the faster teams.″

It was a sentiment echoed by Charlie Boulding of Nenana, who arrived at Kaltag in ninth place.

``I had some kind of bug that went through my dogs. It hasn’t been a trouble-free year but we’re hanging in there,″ he said as he collected dog food pans and packed up, preparing to leave.

Ramy Brooks of Fairbanks was in fifth place. He left Kaltag at 7:20 a.m. Sunday.

Vern Halter of Willow, Osmar, Peryll Kyzer of Willow, Boulding, Bill Cotter of Nenana, and Lavon Barve of Wasilla all left Kaltag within a half-hour of each other Sunday morning.

With the top spots out of reach, they were jockeying for position in the top 10. They moved about the checkpoint quietly, eyeing each other suspiciously, trying to figure out who would leave first for the 90-mile run to Unalakleet.

As the sun began to turn the sky a soft pink, the temperature hovered near 20 below.

``There’s going to be some running going on from White Mountain to Nome, that’s for sure,″ Osmar said.

Race officials said the weather was continuing cloudy and cold in this part of Alaska, with overnight lows dipping to 25 below zero.

Fifty-three teams departed Anchorage on March 1 for the 1,100-mile marathon to Nome. Forty-seven teams remain.

The winner gets $50,000 and a $38,000 truck. The next 19 teams will split $350,000.

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