Now that the Iditarod is over and this year's sled dog season is winding down, mushers are starting to return home -- getting back to all the things that make up their lives when not racing to Nome.
"It's been busy catching up on everything," said Jon Little, a Kasilof-based musher. "Unpacking, grocery shopping, there's a lot do to after being gone three weeks."
Paul Gebhardt, who also lives in Kasilof, and Jim Gallea of Sterling said they were equally busy catching up on things.
As to how the three mushers thought they did in the race, Little placed 13th and said overall he did fine.
"The team performed well considering all the difficulty in training this season," he said.
Gebhardt, who placed 23rd, was pleased with his run and finished right where he thought he would.
"Before it began, I told the press I thought I would be between 20th and 30th place, and I ended up right in the middle," he said.
Gallea came in 40th with his team and was proud of how well they did.
"They were a young team of dogs from (Mitch) Seavey's kennel. We went out to have some fun and get in some good training this year. I'm extremely happy with my team's performance," he said.
Little also pointed out that, "Regardless of the final standings, the peninsula teams did well. We all had trouble training, and there were a lot of teams of young dogs out there, and everyone still did good."
All three mushers had lots to say about the new trail.
"There was some anxiety going into it, but it was really cool," Little said.
"I could do without the 600 miles on the (Yukon) river," Gebhardt said. "The weather wasn't bad, but it was really boring."
Gallea agreed with Gebhardt.
"It was neat going through some of the new places, but being on the river so long was a little too much," Gallea said. "From a psychological standpoint it was difficult on the mushers and the dogs."
All enjoyed meeting other mushers head-on in the race this year, due to a section of trail that backtracked.
"It lets you see how far behind you are," joked Gebhardt.
All three also felt strongly about Robert Sorlie being the first one under the burled arch. Sorlie, a Norwegian native, was one of only two foreigners in the race.
"He was a great competitor, and I was pleased to see he got such a warm reception," Little said.
"I think it's great how good both Sorlie and Ramy Brooks did," said Gebhardt. "He's a nice guy. He had a great team of dogs and really drove them. Also, it's good for the race to have an international winner -- it's more notoriety."
Gallea also thought it was great Sorlie won.
"Nothing against anybody, but it was nice to see some new blood win it," he said. "It was great that he was Norwegian, too. Hopefully, the Iditarod will become the America's Cup of sled dog racing."
Now that the race is over and they've returned home, it's back to business. As some mushers believe, the end of one racing season is the beginning of the next.
Little said he'll be back next year, but not on a sled. He'll be reporting on the event, part of his new responsibilities to Cabela's, an outdoors outfitter that sponsors the race. Little said he runs dogs for the sheer enjoyment and will continue doing so even if he's not training for the Iditarod.
Gebhardt said he was happy to be home and sleeping in his own bed again. He plans to be in the race again next year, though. He said it will be another conservative season like this year.
"My lead dog, Houston, is 2, but he's a pup of Red Dog and he's a tough-headed dog," Gebhardt said. Red Dog was Gebhardt's golden harness-winning leader when the team finished second in 2000.
Gebhardt will use next year to continue his training of the pups, and then he hopes to run competitively in 2005.
Gallea is enjoying being home. He's been relaxing, watching movies and trying to learn to sleep eight hours a night again.
"You get used to the two-hour naps while on the trail," he said.
Gallea said he felt a great sense of accomplishment having now completed his third Iditarod.
"It's long, hard and there are times when you wish it was over, but there's nothing about the Iditarod I don't like," he said.
Sadly, he won't be able to race next year, though. Having put off finishing college for several years now to pursue racing, it's time to go back to school.
"I'll still cover the race though for the 'Ultimate Iditarod' Web site," said Gallea, referring to the site he and the Seaveys maintain. "But I'll be back racing after I'm finished with school."
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