The Iditarod restart kicks off Sunday afternoon in Willow. Five Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta teams will be competing across 1,000 miles of Alaska wilderness, but a notable, local musher will be absent from the pack. However, his time will still be going to the dogs.
Mike Williams Jr. has competed in nearly every Iditarod since 2010, but this year, as the race approaches, he isn’t busy flying his team to the start.
"Right now I’m scooping up some poop and there’s a lot of water,” he told KYUK over the phone from his Akiak dog yard on Thursday. He laughed as he talked.
The warm weather right now means that he can’t let the mess sit for long, or else it all melts together.
He made the decision to not race shortly after last year’s Iditarod, and he has five good reasons why: “My newest one is Corlaine, and she’s six months. Anna, she just turned three. My twin boys, they’re five. And my stepson is eight,” he explained.
He also has a new litter of pups and a 40-dog kennel. Williams says that if conditions were better he’d be entering the dogs in local races, but everything has turned to mush. The watery winter has not only destroyed local trails.
“Some of the dog houses, well a lot of them," he said, "got damaged this past year from all the rain.”
On another note, the winter has brought some good things for the Williams' household. The whitefish harvest is the best he’s ever seen.
“This morning, one of my nets, I pulled up about 35,” he said.
Williams catches about 90 percent of the food that his dogs eat, and this year, they have something new on the menu.
“My uncle up in Barrow (Utqiagvik) sent us some whale blubber," Williams said. "It keeps good weight on them, and they have shiny coats from it.”
Meanwhile, Williams’ father, Mike Williams Sr., catches lush fish, also known as burbot, for his son’s team. Growing up, the younger Williams watched his father compete in the Iditarod. When asked if he'd be following the race this year, Williams didn't hesitate.
“Oh yeah. Of course!" he responded.
Williams says that he will be checking the Iditarod Tracker whenever he pulls out his phone, cheering on the local teams while home in Akiak, surrounded by family and dogs.