TAKOTNA - The dog teams leading the Iditarod spent just a few minutes at this hillside village on Wednesday, but many mushers stayed to recuperate at one of the sled dog race's most hospitable checkpoints.
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"My house isn't this good," said Aliy Zirkle, of Two Rivers, between bites of a made-to-order burger in the community center.
Until Takotna, she had been third behind Doug Swingley, a four-time Iditarod champ, who led the field of 79 teams on Wednesday.
Zirkle, who finished 11th last year, said she's sticking to her own schedule during the more than 1,100-mile journey from Anchorage to Nome.
"My plan was to stay here for 24," said Zirkle, 36, a former biologist with an Ivy League degree. "I'd love to stay with them and beat them, ultimately, but we're not very far into it, really."
The rules of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race require mushers to take at least one 24-hour rest period and two eight-hour breaks. Mushers also rest their dogs for several hours each day, either on the trail or at a checkpoint, and halt them on the trail every few hours to toss them snacks of meat and fat.
Residents in the 50-person village greeted arriving mushers and shoveled dog waste and straw as teams came and went in near zero-degree temperatures.
"It's our checkpoint and it's grown and grown," said organizer Jan Newton, who's lived in Takotna for 27 years. "We just try to make everybody feel at home."