After days of heating up meals in boiling water used to make gravy for the dogs and snacking on energy bars or chunks of meat, the first musher to reach the village of Anvik along the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is in for a treat.
The Millennium Alaskan Hotel Anchorage will fly its chef 350 miles to this remote Alaska village of 82 people to whip up a seven-course meal for the first musher to get to the first checkpoint along the 1,800-mile long Yukon River.
Executive Chef Bobby Sidro will have to overcome his fear of small planes to make the journey to this Athabascan subsistence village, where locals grow their own vegetables, fish for salmon and hunt moose and black bear for meat. There's no restaurant in town.
"I got to use mostly a portable stove with a little propane (tank) because I think there's nothing there," said Sidro, a 42-year-old native of the Philippines.
He's scheduled to fly to Anvik on Thursday.
Four-time champion Lance Mackey leads the 1,000-mile race across the Alaska wilderness. The 42-year-old Fairbanks musher was the first to reach the halfway point of the race at the ghost-town checkpoint of Iditarod shortly after 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, and received $3,000 in gold nuggets for the accomplishment.
Sonny Lindner was second into the checkpoint, and another four-time champion, Jeff King, was third. None had left the checkpoint by Thursday morning, indicating they might be taking their mandatory 24-hour layovers in the ghost town.
Another four-time winner, Martin Buser, pulled into Iditarod about 9 a.m., Thursday, and could quickly take the lead since he's already taken his 24-hour rest period. However, Iditarod officials report a winter storm is already causing wind gusts and drifting snow along the trail for the next 55 miles.
The winner is expected in the old gold town of Nome, on the state's western coast, early next week.
The lucky musher to collect the First to the Yukon award in Anvik, about 80 miles from Iditarod, or about 10 hours away for a team averaging 8 mph, will be served a meal that would cost him or her $99 at the hotel restaurant.
It includes a starter of portobello mushrooms stuffed with Red King crab, Alaska clam chowder, a roast duck salad, a 14-ounce drunken rib eye and a fruit tart for dessert.
"Hopefully, whoever it might be, they will really love this meal I'm going to prepare," Sidro said.
This is a big event in the tiny village, and Sidro is sure to have a crowd when he cooks the meal in the city building.
"Everybody just stands around and watches," said Christine Elswick, the secretary for the Anvik Tribal Council.
There are two more gifts for the musher: $3,500, served on a gold pan, but all in single $1 bills, and a bottle of champagne.
"The entire meal is pretty incredible, and to top it all off, we call the bottle of Dom Perignon the 'after-dinner mint,'" said Carol Fraser, the hotel's general manager.
You can chalk up one musher who'd like to sit down at that table.
"I wouldn't mind that," said last year's runner-up, Aliy Zirkle.
She and her husband, Allen Moore, the winner of this year's Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, say they go all-out on their dogs' food but not their own, preferring to eat homemade oatmeal energy bars, meat snacks and freeze-dried dinners shipped to the trail beforehand.
"You wouldn't want to eat what we eat for nine or 10 days," she said.
The best scenario is that musher sits down to enjoy the meal. But there's also the possibility that he or she might just grab a few bites and hit the door to get back on the trail if they have a musher on their tail, Fraser said.
"If the musher doesn't have time to eat, if he just grabs the steak and runs, that means the race is hot, that means the race is exciting and so we're excited, too" Fraser said.
Associated Press writer Rachel D'Oro contributed to this report