Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Iditarod Fever in Huslia

Aaron Burmeister was the first Iditarod musher to arrive in Huslia - the half-way checkpoint. Photo by Jo Derendoff
Aaron Burmeister was the first Iditarod musher to arrive in Huslia. Photo by Jo Derendoff
Huslia residents eagerly wait for the first musher to arrive in Huslia. Photo by Vivian Henry
Residents eagerly wait for the first musher to arrive in Huslia. Photo by Vivian Henry

For the first time ever, Huslia is a checkpoint for the Iditarod. It’s the official half-way point. Mushers began arriving in Huslia on Thursday evening. Huslia is my hometown. Unfortunately, I can’t be there for the momentous occasion, but I have been enjoying the updates from relatives and friends.

Everyone has been pitching in with cooking, coordination and whatever else is needed for the mushers, Iditarod officials and news media. Darrell Vent of Huslia said, “People are sure coming together to help make these mushers feel at home with a lot of positive feedback from mushers so far.”

Joslin Olin (right) and Warner Vent present gifts to the half-way prize winnter, Aaron Burmeister. Photo by Jo Derendoff
Joslin Olin (right) and Warner Vent present gifts to the half-way prize winner, Aaron Burmeister. Photo by Jo Derendoff

Dog mushing fans of all ages waited and greeted dog mushers late Thursday. Al Yatlin, Sr. said, “Everyone is so impressed about coming to Huslia. Warner Vent has been greeting all the mushers. They all know who he is.” Warner Vent, Sr. raced in the Iditarod three times in the early 1970s.

Huslia has a storied history of dog mushing with many mushers, like late Bobby Vent, George Attla, Jr. and more. People still mush dogs today. Many teams from around Alaska started out with dogs from Huslia and other interior villages. Many of the Iditarod dog mushers know many of the local mushers from rural Alaska, or they heard stories of them.

Gift were presented to Aaron Burmeister, the half-way prize winner. Photo by Teri Vent
Gift were presented to Aaron Burmeister, the half-way prize winner. Photo by Teri Vent

Aaron Burmeister was the GCI Dorothy G. Page halfway prize winner and received a trophy and $3,000 in gold from GCI. Huslia also presented him with gifts, including beaver mitts made by Eleanor Sam, Elsie Vent and Cesa Agnes and a marten hat made by Alberta Vent. Fred Bifelt and Alberta Vent donated the marten hat. Joe and Margie Ambrose donated a beaded cross. A fur ruff was also donated.

Al Yatlin Sr. meets Aaron Burmeister in Huslia. Photo by Andrea Ambrose
Al Yatlin Sr. meets Aaron Burmeister in Huslia. Photo by Andrea Ambrose

Upon meeting Aaron Burmeister, Al Yatlin, Sr. (my dad) said, “I knew him when he was a kid. He said I sold him a dog then and that’s where some of his current dogs come from.” My mom, Eleanor Yatlin, said “When we lived in Nome Al raced against Aaron’s dad, Richard.” Like many Alaskans, my parents are huge fans of the Iditarod and other dog races throughout Alaska.

Alaskans are tuning in from all over the state. Amy Modig was on a trip in Emmonak and listened to updates from KNOM radio. She said, “Over and over again, I’ve heard the loud cheers and everyone calling out to Burmeister – ‘Welcome to Huslia! Welcome to Huslia!’ Sounds like everyone in town was there!!”

Ten year old, Lydia Yatlin said, “He actually touched me, I’m never washing my jacket. He actually touched me. I can’t believe it!!” Lydia introduced herself to Burmeister and said, “Hi, my name is Lydia. Welcome to Huslia.” Lydia’s mother, Tanya Yatlin, said, “It was truly amazing. Once in a lifetime thing.” 

Huslia volunteer, Ross Sam, hauls Iditarod supplies for mushers. Photo by Teri Vent
Huslia volunteer, Ross Sam, hauls Iditarod supplies for mushers. Photo by Teri Vent

“I’m so proud of our family and friends in Huslia. I am really proud of the early days of the Iditarod, the beginning. I know it takes a special person to do this today, such strength and courage and money!!!! 

Back then, every person in the village was involved. They took mushers in. Everyone helped cut up meat and fish and make dog pot fire. We had to share our dog hay, food. We had pots of moose soup going for a week. Such a special time this was. It was a village effort.

We were so proud of each of these men and their dogs. I loved listening to Uncle Bobby, Herbie Nayokpuk, etc. all drinking coffee and sharing trail stories. Makes me lonely for these special days.” 

– Cynthia Erickson of Tanana

Annette Moses, a kindergarten teacher at the Jimmy Huntington School, brought her students to meet the mushers at the Huslia community hall on Friday. Mrs. Moses said, “My class and I keep going to the ball field and checking out the racers. It just made my whole year to meet Martin Buser…get his autograph and a picture. Our town is booming today, lots of snow machines and new faces. I am having a wonderful day and so are my students.” 

Mrs. Moses and her kindergarten meet Martin Buser at the Huslia half-way checkpoint. Photo by Doreen David
Mrs. Moses and her kindergarten meet Martin Buser at the Huslia half-way checkpoint. Photo by Doreen David

Update on March 23: Huslia received the Golden Clipboard Award. The Golden Clipboard Award is presented by the mushers since 2001 to a special checkpoint and it is voted on by the mushers. What an honor!

“Being in the house all winter for some of us, this event got us out walking, visiting and sharing…was the greatest feeling. It was so nice to see smiling faces, hear lots of laughter and seeing new and ol’ faces. Everyone did something to make this a successful checkpoint. The tables were full with food. The field was immediately cleaned of hay as soon as the team left to be ready for the next musher. Lots of teamwork amongst the Huslia people. The town was overflowed with love and happiness. Thanks to the volunteers for a job well done. It was too awesome to see Huslia was awarded the Golden Clipboard. The volunteers worked hard and fast on short notice, but got the job done!” – Cecelia Nollner, Huslia

Al Yatlin, Jr. said, “They gave them one big Huslia, Alaska welcome.” Huslia welcomed other dog mushers. For current race standings, visit the Iditarod website. Alaskans were pretty excited to have the Iditarod go to Huslia for the first time ever. Huslia has always been a dog mushing community and it couldn’t be more fitting as an Iditarod checkpoint.

Aliy Zirkle on the Koyukuk River in front of Huslia on Friday evening. Photo by Jo Derendoff
Aliy Zirkle on the Koyukuk River in front of Huslia on Friday evening. Photo by Jo Derendoff

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