The Iditarod is well on its way, and three rookies from Bethel entered the race this year. Niklas Wikstrand, a Norwegian who has been in Bethel working with Pete Kaiser’s dogs, is running a B-team for the veteran musher. He spoke with public radio’s Ben Matheson at the ceremonial start on Saturday.
Ben Matheson: You’ve been mushing, I think, for most of your life and now out in Bethel, I think, for a few years. How well do you feel, given that experience, for your first Iditarod run?
Niklas Wikstrand: The longest race that I’ve done is 300 miles and this is completely different. But what I figure for my race is go slower, rest enough, and that’s our team’s main goal, is to rest and run quite conservatively and make sure that this many dogs get to Nome, and just keeping the dogs happy and healthy.
Matheson: So this is a young team?
Wikstrand: It’s everything. The youngest is one-and-a-half years old and the oldest is seven. So there’s veterans and some new ones.
Matheson: Have you spent any time out in the Alaska Range, the first challenge in the Iditarod?
Wikstrand: I’ve done the Willow 300 two times and the Kusko 300 one time. So that’s almost all my racing experience.
Matheson: What are you looking forward to these first couple of days on some of the more technical parts of the trail?
Wikstrand: Well, like every musher I just look forward to getting out there, get done with all the stress and planning and getting on with what you have been planning for. And what will be left behind is left behind, and you have to take everything as it comes. So I’m just looking forward to getting the dogs running and not thinking about being nervous any more.
Matheson: How do you mentally prepare yourself, given all that you have to think about and coordinate?
Wikstrand: Mentally I just, I’ve been guiding for a few years now. You just have to keep calm with the dogs so the dogs can be as calm as possible. When they’re calm, you have control. Of course, you’re thinking about everything that can go wrong, so if something goes wrong you are prepared for it. Never say never, but I will try to keep control and keep calm.
Matheson: I have to ask, but is there any Norwegian foods that you packed for the trail?
Wikstrand: Not really. I got sent out some burritos that Pete’s mom made and I love Thanksgiving, so a lot of my main meals is stuffing from Thanksgiving.
Matheson: This particular string of dogs, did you run any of them in the Kusko this year?
Wikstrand: I ran the Bogus Creek this year, but yeah, I ran some of them in the Bogus and some of them ran in Pete’s team in the Kusko.
Matheson: Well, have fun out there Nick, and we’ll see you out on the trail.
Rookie Niklas Wikstrand talks with Ben Matheson about running in this year’s Iditarod.