Familial support, with a history of friendship, provides boost to pair of Iditarod veterans

A surprise visit for 2 mushers in Grayling
Published: Mar. 12, 2023 at 11:18 PM AKDT
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GRAYLING, Alaska (KTUU) - There’s a friendly, familiar atmosphere and longtime camaraderie between some of this year’s teams, with one group in particular standing out: Pete Kaiser and Richie Diehl, both veteran mushers, and their wives, Bethany Kaiser and Emerie Fairbanks-Diehl.

For a time, the Grayling checkpoint was host only to Diehl, who arrived second to the checkpoint, and Kaiser, who was third, arriving shortly after him.

Soon, though, the longtime friends would be greeted by more familiar faces.

“We were texting, and one of us mentioned how cool it would be to fly to Grayling,” said Bethany Kaiser, speaking about an exchange with Fairbanks-Diehl the day before. The pair ended up traveling to Grayling on a whim to visit their favorite mushers at the checkpoint that morning.

The Kaiser kids, who are school-aged, were left at home in Bethel.

“They’re pretty much professionals at this point,” Bethany Kaiser said. “Now they know Dad’s going to leave. He’s going to be gone for, like, a week. There’s always tears at the starting line.”

Fairbanks-Diehl, however, who is a new mom, brought the youngest Diehl to Grayling with her.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “Definitely a lot less nerve-wracking than it would’ve been weeks ago, but, yeah, we’re doing good, and I felt fine taking him on a little journey.”

The newborn, Nolan, who was born in December, is another bit of motivation for the trek out on the trail.

“I look at them a lot,” Diehl said, speaking in Nikolai earlier in the week about the family and baby photos he’s carrying with him. “If it’s, like, middle of the day like this, and we’re just cruising on good trail, I’ll just pull my phone out because I’ve got, like, a million pictures from the last two months.”

Kaiser, who — along with Diehl — took his eight-hour rest in Grayling, said seeing his wife in the remote checkpoint was a pleasant surprise.

“I had no idea they were coming,” Kaiser said. “Beautiful day to fly out from Bethel. I don’t think they’re spending the night or anything, but it’s cool to see them.”

As it has been for years, the Iditarod has proven to be a family affair, with best friends on the trail and off making it that much more meaningful.

“It’s truly the best,” Bethany Kaiser said. “There are so many ups and downs in the race. It can be pretty miserable, but it’s so nice to have (Emerie) just a phone call away.”

Fairbanks-Diehl agreed, adding that her longtime friendship with Kaiser, along with that of their husbands, has been a blessing.

“It’s awesome to have the support, and have people who know what we’re going through, and live the same lifestyle as us,” she said. “Bethany and I have been best friends for I don’t even know how long — elementary, junior high — so we’re very close, and it’s nice to have her to go through this with and have wild adventures wherever we decide in the morning to hop in the plane and go.”