Seven-course banquet awaits first musher to Kaltag

Posted: Monday, March 10, 2003

KALTAG, Alaska (AP) -- The menu had long been set for the seven-course banquet awaiting the first musher to complete the Yukon River portion of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

What remained unknown Sunday afternoon, however, was who would sit down in the Yukon River village of Kaltag to a gourmet meal of Alaskan king crab crostini, spinach with balsamic chicken, saffron risotto with lobster flambe, triple chocolate bliss and a champagne toast.

Another question was when the fancy table would be set at the Kaltag community hall.

Race organizers had figured the race leader, Norwegian musher Robert Sorlie, would arrive in Kaltag about 3 p.m. to claim the feast and $3,500 in one-dollar bills for dessert. But at 2:15 p.m. race followers in a small plane saw Sorlie and his 12-dog team bedded down on straw along the frozen Yukon River about 45 miles south of Kaltag.

''Well, where's Ramy then?'' asked Brooke McGrath, food director for Millennium Alaskan Hotel, the award sponsor. She was referring to Ramy Brooks, in second place.

At 4:10 p.m. the Healy musher left the previous checkpoint at Eagle Island 70 miles to the south.

Third front-runner Jeff King of Denali Park was still at Eagle Island. Defending champion Martin Buser of Big Lake arrived there at 4:37 p.m.

With a lull at the front of the pack, speculation was rampant at Kaltag checkpoint headquarters, particularly with the weather clear and a balmy 28 degrees.

''It's sunny, so we can expect Sorlie is resting his dogs for a significant amount of time and then he'll move on in the evening,'' said Denny Albert, a volunteer trail veterinarian.

''If he leaves around 5 o'clock and goes seven or eight miles an hour, he might be here by 11,'' added checker Randy Parent. ''But as soon as you think you know what a musher is going to do, they do something else.''

Usually the banquet is served to the first musher to reach the Yukon River. But this year the location was changed because a warm winter forced Iditarod organizers to move the race start north to Fairbanks and create a new route to the finish line in Nome.

The revised route extended the race to 1,170 miles. But poor trail conditions forced organizers to eliminate the stretch between Anvik and Shageluk over the weekend, cutting 50 miles from the race.

Earlier Sunday, a small plane carrying two race volunteers crash-landed into a snow berm in Galena northeast of Kaltag, Alaska State Troopers said. A veterinarian suffered a cut nose, but there were no other serious injuries, said Trooper Anne Sears. The names of those in the plane were not immediately available.

Executive Iditarod Director Stan Hooley said the pilot, also a race volunteer, reported a power failure at takeoff.

''Fortunately, everyone is healthy and able to continue on their volunteer duties,'' Hooley said.

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