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Gourmet meal welcomes Montana's Jessie Royer as first Iditarod musher to Yukon River

Gourmet meal welcomes Montana's Jessie Royer as first Iditarod musher to Yukon River

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — One Iditarod musher ditched a meal of frozen food heated over a campfire for a gourmet meal Friday.

Jessie Royer, a longtime Montanan who splits her time between homes in Seeley Lake and Fairbanks, was the first musher to reach the checkpoint in Ruby, a village less than halfway from the finish line, and a huge spread prepared by a chef flown in from Anchorage awaited her when she arrived with 14 dogs in harness at 6:37 a.m.

Lobster bisque served with rosemary crostini for breakfast? You bet, but save room for the other four courses.

Royer was followed into Ruby, the race's first checkpoint on the Yukon River, by three others: Thomas Waerner of Norway, Aaron Burmeister of Nome and Brent Sass of Eureka.

Royer, 43, is competing in her 18th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She has finished in the top 10 seven times, and her third-place showing last year was her best.

She was born in Idaho but raised on a cattle ranch in Montana, where she lived for 21 years, according to her biography on the Iditarod website. She worked as a horse wrangler before moving to Alaska in 1998.

The meal, which also included a seared duck breast and espresso-rubbed ribeye, was prepared by Roberto Sidro, executive chef at the Lakefront Anchorage hotel, which sponsored the award. The after-dinner mint was $3,500 in cash served in an Alaska gold pan, accompanied by a bottle of Dom Perignon.

The race started Sunday in Willow for 57 mushers, down to 53 after four withdrew, including Nils Hahn and Alan Eischens on Friday morning. The winner of the nearly 1,000-mile race across Alaska is expected in the town of Nome, on the Bering Sea, sometime next week.

Coronoavirus concerns have prompted some post-race changes by the Iditarod and Nome city officials.

The Iditarod has postponed a meet-the-mushers event and the awards banquet, which were to be held March 21 and 22 in Nome. New dates have not been announced.

The finish line is near the Nome mini-convention center, which serves as a community gathering point for mushers, their families, fans and volunteers.

That spot will still be used, but "we're going to be limiting the amount of people that are allowed in there at any one time," Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Officials also are encouraging people to employ appropriate social distancing, Steckman said.

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