Iditarod mushers continue trek to Nome

Posted: Friday, March 16, 2001

NOME (AP) -- Iditarod mushers continued to make their way to Nome Friday, telling stories of a race that was rewarding but rough on mushers, dogs and equipment.

Dee Dee Jonrowe of Willow rolled into Nome at 1:33 a.m. in 10th place. It was her twelfth top-10 finish. Vern Halter of Willow finished at 5:57 a.m. in 11th place and Ramy Brooks of Healy finished at 7:47 a.m. Friday to claim 12th place.

The race for fifth place was marked by both competition and sportsmanship. Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof and John Baker of Kotzebue were Iditarod rookies together in 1996 and have mushed together since then.

This year, they traded places for much of the way from Kaltag to Nome.

The two faced challenges along the way. Baker began the race sick and was suffering from a swollen leg that prevented him from running. Gebhardt was down to just 7 dogs from the 16 he started with and struggled up the Bering Sea coast in wind that drifted over the trail.

''Johnny kept stopping for me so I could get through,'' Gebhardt said. ''He's a great guy.''

The men and dogs cooperated, and the men made a deal. Once they hit Safety, 22 miles from the finish, they would race.

Fifth and sixth were at stake, the difference in paychecks about $3,200. Both mushers were clocked out of Safety at 4:47 a.m. Thursday. Through the steadily falling snow in early-morning darkness, they pushed. Gebhardt, with his favorite leader Red Dog, made it to Nome first.

Baker's pursuit was thwarted when he had to carry a weary dog in the basket. He also said he erred in his method of feeding, making his dogs sluggish over the last stretch.

He finished 23 minutes behind Gebhardt, but shrugged off any earlier sacrifices. To him, helping out a musher in poor weather is simply the right thing to do.

''Who knows, next time it might have been myself who needed support.''

Baker said the camaraderie and the high finishes made for a memorable race.

''I really enjoyed it this year,'' he said. ''This year was really special.''

Forty-five teams remained on the trail Friday. Bringing up the rear was Dave Tresino of Talkeetna in 57th place. Tresino was in Shaktoolik early Friday, 171 miles from Nome.

Sixty-eight mushers started the race March 3. Eleven scratched or were withdrawn from the race.

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