While peninsula mushers Tim Osmar, of Ninilchik, and Sig Stormo, of Funny River, focus on finishing the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, fans at home focus on sending their support and keeping the home fires burning.
Osmar, who placed third in the 2001 Tustumena 200, was the first musher into the Quest's halfway checkpoint in Dawson City, Yukon Territory. His overall time puts him in second place by just 14 minutes behind Carcross musher William Kleedehn. Being first into Dawson wins Osmar a poke of gold donated by Dawson miners Joe and Wendy Fellers once the Ninilchik musher crosses the Fairbanks finish line.
Osmar left Dawson City Saturday morning after completing the 36-hour mandatory layover.
As of Saturday evening, Stormo was one of seven mushers who had still not arrived at the halfway point. The rookie is in 23rd place, out of 28 mushers still in the race.
Three mushers have scratched so far, including Dario Daniels and Jack Berry, both of Homer.
Osmar's wife, Tawny, said she received a phone call from her husband shortly after his arrival in Dawson late Friday night.
"He sounded great and was in really good spirits," she said. "He's really happy with the dogs. They're looking strong. It's one of the best teams he's ever run."
But, Tawny Osmar said, her husband cautioned her about getting too excited about his high standing in the 1,000-mile mushing marathon.
"He said, 'Don't get your hopes too high. There's a lot of race to go still'" she said. "The next half of the race is going to be pretty rough. He's kind of leery. But I've been through this so many times. There's nothing I can do from this end, but give him support."
Osmar finished third in his only previous Quest run, in 1986. The Iditarod veteran and perennial front-runner has his sights set on finishing in the top three again this year before hitting the trail again in March for his 17th run in the Iditarod.
He will be just the fifth musher ever to attempt both races in the same year.
Today, Osmar's wife, their daughter Nicole, 13, and son David, 10, head to Anchorage, where they will join a caravan of fans traveling to Fairbanks on Monday. Part of the group includes representatives from one of Osmar's sponsors, Rae's Harness Shop, with stores in Soldotna and Anchorage.
"He is just a quality musher," said Rob Couture, co-owner of the Soldotna store.
Although Osmar is a close family friend, Couture said he hasn't heard from him since the race began.
"When a musher is in a race ... you let him be," he said.
Couture's wife, Leslie, and Anchorage store manager Carl Black will be waiting for Osmar at the finish line.
"As a group and as a business, we are very much behind Tim," Couture said, pointing out that Osmar has the skills and knowledge of anyone who has won the race.
"I really think he is going to win," Couture said.
Stormo's girlfriend, Kim Nelson, said she spoke with Stormo by telephone after he reached the checkpoint at Pelly Crossing.
"It was just a quick phone call, but he sounded really happy," she said. Stormo promised to make contact again once he reached Dawson.
In the meantime, Nelson said her sons Erik, 11, and Clay, 6, are caring for Stormo's 12 puppies.
"We'll be glad when he gets home," Nelson said.
The recent birth of Nelson and Stormo's son, Levi, has kept Nelson from joining the crowd at the Fairbanks finish line.
Race reports available over the Yukon Quest's Web site are giving Stormo's Aunt Hanna and her daughter, Bonnie Gonzales, of Clam Gulch, updates on their favorite musher's progress. They, in turn, are passing the information to Stormo's parents, Sig and Ruby Stormo in Washington.
"This is very exciting for us," Gonzales said.
Efforts to contact Daniels and Berry were unsuccessful.
Updates on the race can be found on the Yukon Quest's World Wide Web site at http://bender.yukon.net/yukonquest/home.asp.
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