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Buser leads mushers out of Shaktoolik

Posted: Monday, March 11, 2002

SHAKTOOLIK, Alaska (AP) -- Ramey Brooks has cut half an hour from the lead of Martin Buser in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but the three-time champion from Big Lake still had a lead of two and a half hours, with a bigger team than his closest pursuer.

Brooks rested a few minutes less in Shaktoolik than Buser, and made the run from Unalakleet about eight minutes faster. And a lead of two and a half hours isn't much with more than 200 miles left in the 1,100-mile race.

Buser is moving along at a pace faster than the race record set in 2000 by Montana musher Doug Swingley. At Unalakleet, he was three hours ahead of the Swingley's record pace that put him in Nome in just over nine days.

But along the coast, the wind was fierce, with gusts to nearly 50 miles an hour.

Buser left Shaktoolik for the 48-mile run to Koyuk at 4:38 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Brooks took off in pursuit exactly two and a half hours later at 7:08 p.m.

Buser spent four hours and 56 minutes at the checkpoint, Brooks, who lives in Healy, rested his dogs for four hours and 37 minutes.

Buser made the 42-mile run from Unalakleet in five hours and 25 minutes. Brooks did that part of the trail eight minutes faster.

Buser, the Swiss-born musher from Big Lake, had 12 dogs in his team when he left Shaktoolik, to nine for Brooks.

John Baker of Kotzebue pulled into Shaktoolik at 5:58 p.m., which put him about six hours behind the leader. Dee Dee Jonrowe of Willow was less than an hour behind Baker at Unalakleet, but she hadn't arrived in Shaktoolik by Sunday evening.

Baker had 10 dogs in his team, while Jonrowe had just eight left.

Behind the leaders was a tight pack of four mushers.

Vern Halter of Willow was fifth out of Unalakleet, leaving at 4:54 p.m., more than three and a half hours after Jonrowe hit the trail. Just a minute behind Halter was Jon Little of Kasilof.

Charlie Boulding of Manley, another veteran racer, headed out less than 20 minutes behind Halter and Little. Three-time race winner Jeff King was eighth, pulling out of Unalakleet at 7:40 p.m., two and a half hours behind Boulding.

Ninth in the race was Ramey Smyth of Big Lake. He arrived at Unalakleet at 2:35 p.m., half an hour before King, but decided to take a longer break.

Jerry Riley, the 65-year-old Nenana musher, was tenth, arriving in Unalakleet at 3:28 p.m. Mitch Seavey, who lives in Seward, reached the coastal village at 4:02 p.m., followed by the first non-Alaskan musher, Harald Tunheim of Norway, in 12th place. He hit the coast at 5:01 p.m.

Shaktoolik is 219 miles from the finish in Nome. The winning musher is expected to finish sometime Tuesday, collecting more than $60,000.

Six of the 64 mushers who started the race had scratched by Sunday evening. The rest were on the trail, stretched out from Buser to rookie Rick Horstman, who was out of Ophir, 679 miles from Nome. Defending champion Doug Swingley, who declared earlier that he was touring, not racing, was out of Cripple, in 46th place.

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