King has spent the last 48 hours staring at nothing but snow and the dancing behinds of 11 trotting dogs.He hasn't had a solid hour of sleep since the race left Anchorage seven days--and 882 miles--ago.Working on autopilot, King knocks apart 11 metal dog bowls.The dogs curl up in the snow, their noses tucked under paws for warmth, their eyes watchful.Still, there's another 268 miles of hard trail to cover, and all manner of peculiarly Alaskan events could intrude.For days now, there have been rumors of polar bear sightings on the pack ice just outside of Shaktoolik, which is only 40 miles north of here.It's five degrees above zero with a menacing wind blowing off Alaska's Norton Sound.
This winter finds Alaskans gearing up for the 25th anniversary of the Iditarod, a milestone that many believed the event would never see.Their tails are straight or curled, their ears flop-style or prick. Elbowing his way through the crowd, he fills another bucket with water and sets it over the flames.A young boy reaches to pet Canon, a lead dog, but King shoots him a look that says don't. Kneeling in the snow now, bare-handed, he bashes apart frozen meat with an ax and tosses the chunks into a cooler.An advance guard on a snow machine buzzes down the trail and then races back."A mile out," he reports, shifting the rifle strapped across his chest.
Bent double in the arctic wind, King yanks booties off 44 furry feet. He dumps in warm water and sloshes the stew into the dog bowls. Within ten minutes, Doug Swingley pulls up with his trusty Elmer in the lead.