Richie Diehl cautiously runs his first Iditarod

by Angela Denning-Barnes on March 8, 2013

Richie Diehl speaks at the musher's drawing Feb. 28. Photo by John Wallace, courtesy of

Richie Diehl speaks at the musher’s drawing Feb. 28. Photo by John Wallace, courtesy of

Richie Diehl of Aniak arrived into the Takotna checkpoint Wednesday afternoon in 49th place. But he knew he’d be at a disadvantage even before the Iditarod started. The 27-year-old is a rookie. Sure, he’s run many mid-distance races before and done quite well, but he’s never gone 1,000 miles.
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The Iditarod includes spending more than a week driving dogs across Alaska, in any weather condition. Diehl’s goals are modest.

“My goal is to learn the trail and learn to care for the dogs and there’s times when you’re going to be real tired,” Diehl said. “(It’s) just a learning experience pretty much and (to) see what I have to do for the future if I want to be competitive.”

Diehl has gotten a lot of advice from his good friend, Pete Kaiser, who took 5th place in the Iditarod last year. He’s also taking his experience with the K300, the Norton Sound 450, and the Kobuk 440 and stretching it out to form an Iditarod strategy. It includes taking his time to care for his dogs with the goal of having a healthy team at the finish.

He says the biggest difference–and perhaps his biggest challenge–will be getting used to the sleep deprivation.

“And being out there for 10 days is a little longer than these mid-distance races because these mid-distance races, you’re going hard from the beginning,” Diehl said. “And in the Iditarod, you’ve really got to pace yourself.”

Diehl has 43 dogs in his Aniak kennel. Although he’s starting to breed his own blood line, most of his race team comes from Jon Little and Jeff King lines. The majority of the team is aged three to five, but a few are 2-year-olds, and one is 7.

His main leader is a 6-year-old named Tater. He’s been with Diehl for the last five years, leading the whole time.

“The thing that stands out about him is he’s probably the most loyal dog that I’ve ever run,” Diehl said. “I mean, he’s willing to do anything I ask, which is pretty amazing.”

During his 24-hour layover in Takotna, Diehl told KNOM reporter, Laureli Kineen, that he had been dealing with some sick dogs who weren’t eating too well. It could be a bug they picked up on the trail, not uncommon for a team that hasn’t been around dozens of other teams prior to the race. But Diehl remained positive.

“It’s only the first half of the race and they’re doing good for the circumstances,” Diehl said. “And I think once they get over this, they should be ready to move down the trail a little bit faster than what we’re doing now.”

All in all, Diehl says he is excited to be where he’s at, running one of the greatest sled dog races on Earth. And he’s very grateful for the opportunity.

“I just like to thank everybody along the Kuskokwim from Aniak to Bethel for helping me out, you know, get out there and do my first Iditarod. There’s been a lot of people along the Kuskokwim that have done a lot and I really appreciate all the help.”

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