CRIPPLE Martin Buser ate beef stew over rice Thursday, while giving his dog team a long rest and entertaining friends with a story of a strange occurrence on the Iditarod trail.
Buser, stripped down to his fleece long underwear in the 40-degree plus temperatures at the Cripple checkpoint, told a small group gathered around him that he drove over a moose a fresh wolf kill while mushing through an area of the trail called the Farewell Burn.
''It was in the trail. We had to go over it. When the sled hit it, we realized we ran over the carcass,'' said Buser of Big Lake, a four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race winner racing in his 21st Iditarod.
For arriving first at the official halfway mark 609 miles from the Nome finish line Buser received $4,000 in gold nuggets.
Mitch Seavey of Seward was second into Cripple, followed by John Baker of Kotzebue. Three-time winner Jeff King of Denali Park arrived fourth, but was the first musher out of Cripple, leaving the checkpoint at 5:40 a.m. Thursday for the 112-mile run to Ruby.
Buser said he's run over dead moose before on the Iditarod trail. One year, another musher had to shoot and kill a moose that attacked his team. But he said he'd never encountered a wolf kill before.
DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow, sixth into Cripple, said her sled went over the carcass at night. All she heard was a couple of bumps and then her headlamp illuminated the fresh blood. She then saw the moose's head at the edge of the trail.
Jonrowe said Bill Cotter was the first musher to encounter the dead moose. He saw the wolves and heard the howling.
''Wolves were right on it at the time. They bolted but not far. They were howling at the time,'' Jonrowe said.
King was in the lead Thursday after resting his team about eight hours and leaving Cripple. However, King has yet to satisfy a 24-hour rest requirement, something that Buser, Baker and Jonrowe were getting out of the way in Cripple.
Jonrowe, competing in her 22nd Iditarod, has come in second twice before, and both times King won the race.
She said King is taking a gamble by going so far into the race without resting his team, but she said if it works he will arrive on the coast with a very well-rested team, increasing his chances of being first to Nome.
Jonrowe said right now King and Buser are big factors, but until the top teams take their mandatory rest periods, it's hard to tell who is really ahead. Race rules require that mushers take one 24-hour rest and two eight-hour rests.
''They are both past champions, which means they have the know-how to put it together,'' Jonrowe said of King and Buser.
Charlie Boulding of Manley, the 10th musher to arrive in Cripple, was the first musher into the checkpoint with his 24-hour rest out of the way. As he sat on a bale of hay, he thought out loud about the race.
''I was the first off my 24,'' Boulding said. ''He (Jeff King) don't count until you 24.''
Bob Douglass of Fremont, Calif., and his wife, Diane, said they were thrilled to meet the mushers. Bob gave Diane a trip to Alaska to follow the Iditarod for her birthday. The trip cost $8,900.
Diane told Boulding she had waited 20 years to meet him.
''You should have come up earlier, you could have beat my wife to it. She hasn't been around that long,'' said Boulding, getting laughs out of everyone.
A record 87 mushers, including four former champions, signed up for the 2004 Iditarod. This year's purse is more than $700,000 with a first-place prize of $69,000 and a new Dodge truck.
It normally takes mushers nine or 10 days total to reach Nome, but race officials are expecting a fast-paced race this year because of good trail conditions. Buser holds the record of 8 days, 22 hours and 46 minutes achieved in 2002.
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