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Leader not taking spot for granted in last miles

Associated Press
Published March 14, 2004

KALTAG, Alaska - Norway's Kjetil Backen kept his lead Saturday in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race but a pack of seasoned mushers were not far behind going into the last quarter of the race.

Backen arrived in Kaltag at the last checkpoint on the Yukon River at 2:22 p.m. Mushers John Baker and Charlie Boulding were only about an hour behind.

Backen said his lead, while nice, means little at this point in the 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome. There are 261 miles to go and much of the trail is coastal, where teams can be exposed to bitterly cold winds and quick-moving blizzards.

"You keep going forward. We take it one leg at a time," said Backen, after feeding his dogs specially-formulated snacks that look like frozen meat bricks.

He massaged the front leg of "Takk," a dog that led fellow Norwegian and 2003 Iditarod winner Robert Sorlie into Nome. Ten of the 12 dogs in Backen's team went to Nome last year with Sorlie.

Backen said he would like to get Takk all the way to the finish in Nome again. The dog was not pulling well because he had tendinitis, perhaps because the last section of trail was soft.

From Kaltag, it is 90 miles to the next checkpoint at Unalakleet, the second-longest section of trail.

"I think we have to rest a little before we get to Nome," said Backen, who quickly got his team settled on beds of straw.

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