Buser wins gourmet meal as first musher to the Yukon River

Posted: Sunday, March 10, 2002

RUBY (AP) -- It's not your typical breakfast of champions.

It was 5 a.m. when a sleepy eyed Martin Buser sat down to a gourmet meal that included smoked chicken pecan salad, chilled roast pork tenderloin, large prawns stuffed with lobster, fruit tart flambe and champagne.

The meal and $3,500 were the prize for being the first musher to reach the Yukon River village of Ruby in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Buser arrived in this village perched high above the Yukon River at 3:58 a.m. Friday.

After feeding his dogs, he sat down at a table decorated with flowers and candles in the log community hall and shared each course of his meal with race officials and trail volunteers.

During the more than 70-mile run from Cripple, it wasn't Pop Tarts or pancakes he had on his mind. Buser said he had been looking forward to the meal since leaving Cripple.

''A seven-course meal seems just fine to me,'' he said.

Buser, of Big Lake, is a three-time champion running in his 19th Iditarod. He is making a remarkable comeback from last year, when he finished 24th.

He credits the improvement to a greater focus on his job.

''After last year's dismal performance, I sat down with my wife and we had a brainstorming session,'' Buser said.

They decided he was spending too much time on things not related to training his dogs.

There were too many visits to schools and nursing homes, he was sitting on too many boards and committees, and going to too many meetings.

Buser pared back his commitments.

''I was trying to train my dog team while I was doing all those nice things, and you just can't do that,'' he said. ''We've got to concentrate on the guys who pay the bills.''

The mushers must take a mandatory eight-hour break somewhere on the Yukon River and Buser took his in Ruby. He said his dogs got a good rest in Cripple, where they took their mandatory 24-hour layover.

''I've never had a team that looked this good -- and looked this good this far into the race.''

While Buser had a healthy lead over other top teams, he noted there were still nearly 500 miles to go before reaching the Nome finish line.

''We're sitting in a nice position, but it's a long way yet,'' he said.

Buser had a large team on his side, however. He pulled into Ruby with 13 dogs, more than three of his closest rivals.

He was the first musher to get back on the trail. He checked through the next checkpoint at Galena 52 miles away at 5:35 p.m.

Ramy Brooks of Healy was in second place. He left Ruby at 2:31 p.m., followed by DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow at 2:54 p.m.

Linwood Fiedler of Willow, who was struggling with a sick team, scratched. He tried leaving Ruby at about 4:30 p.m., but turned back to the village with his eight dogs a few minutes later and conferred with the race's chief veterinarian.

Fiedler finished second last year, his best finish in 13 Iditarods.

''Last year went wonderfully well and I couldn't make a mistake. And this year has been very difficult,'' he said.

Vern Halter of Willow, John Baker of Kotzebue and Ramey Smyth of Big Lake also were headed to Galena Friday evening.

Brooks said he's not paying too much attention to what Buser is doing at this point in the race.

''If I try to just go and catch him, I wouldn't get to Nome,'' he said. ''I can't compromise the rest at this point. Maybe at the end if he is within shooting distance, I'll make a run for it.''

The long stretch of trail on the Yukon River can be windy and monotonous for mushers and their dogs. But Brooks said he doesn't mind the river at all.

''I grew up in Rampart. I love the river. It is like home to me,'' he said. ''I've got a lot of family on the river.''

The teams had a tail wind Friday as they headed west, something that should make the trip a little easier.

The winner will take home the top prize of nearly $63,000 and a new pickup truck. The top 30 finishers will share a $550,000 purse.

Sixty-one of 64 teams that began the 30th running of the Iditarod remain on the trail.

In addition to Fiedler, Burt Bomhoff of Chugiak, Perry Solomonson of Plain, Wash. and Judy Merritt of Moose Pass also scratched.

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