From Kyle Hopkins in Takotna --
Iditarod champ and speed-record holder John Baker is cooling his heels in the snowy Takotna checkpoint today, sharing a table with a slew of other Iditarod contenders. Check out the scene, and listen to this short Q&A as Baker talks about whether Aliy Zirkle could win the race, what fans should make of the pace and how you might catch him dancing to 80s music on the dog sled.
Could Aliy Zirkle win this Iditarod?
Somebody’s got to win, so everybody here is a contender, yeah. I don’t mean just here in Takotna. Because I know Martin is out there somewhere, and I have all the respect in the world for him. I just saw Rick Swenson is here.
I look down the table and I see Ramey Smyth is over there. So There’s a lot of peole that are capable of winning the race.
Are you listening to music on the dog sled this year?
I did listen to music the other day coming into Nikolai.
What do you like?
I enjoy rock. Some country. Older country. But I enjoy rock and roll from the '80s and late '70s.
I love dancing and I dance a lot on the sled when listening to music. And I probably use up a lot of energy.
How much can you dance on a dog sled?
Oh, you’d be surprised.
And I also, I was looking around to make sure nobody could hear me singing. Screaming at the top of my lungs, and the dogs are looking at me.
Are frontrunners pushing the pace more than usual?
For the conditions that we’ve had, it may have been. But it’s almost -- to the minute -- the same schedule that I ran last year. So I’m just doing what I did before.
… It was definitely a better trail last year, so we're pushing the pace in that regard. So we’re similar to the same race run/rest schedule. So at this point, it was real conservative getting to here. And at this point last year was when we started stretching out the runs.
Given the amount of fresh snow on the trail, do your dogs still have as much fuel in the tank as last year?
Yes I would say so. They’ve used energy there. But then, they’ve had warm temperatures. So they haven’t used a lot of energy trying to keep warm or anything like that.