Iditarod 2020 - March 11th

Episode 4- McGrath to Cripple… 24s, Fake News, and Misfortune

By Michael Rogers

The race is snaking its way deep into the Interior and many of the mushers have hunkered down for their mandatory 24-hour rest. Among the lead pack; Sass, Mackey, Phillips, Drobny, Seavey, Maixner, Beals, and Zirkle have blown through Ophir and are bound for Cripple. None of them hunkered down in Takotna or McGrath and just kept running. They have to take a 24-hour rest and at this stage it will almost certainly be before Ruby. Jesse Royer, Richie Deal, Aaron Burmeister, Thomas Waerner and Joar Ulsom are on their 24-hour in Takotna, counting down the minutes until they can give chase. Pete Kaiser and Jessie Holmes are a couple of hours behind doing the same thing.

Joar Leifseth Ulsom gets ready to leave the Takotna checkpoint from his 24-hour layover during the 2019 Iditarod. Photo by Jeff Schultz

Despite being in the lead pack, Aily Zirkle is reporting that her team is slow this year and she is likely not going to finish up front. Once she stops in Cripple for her 24, the cohort currently in Takotna will pass her by.

Aily Zirkle passes a bowl of steaming meat and kibble stew to her dogs at Nikolai. Photo by Jon Little.

Defending champ Pete Kaiser’s team has 4 females in heat which has put his team really off their pace. He reports it’s like driving a team full of preschoolers, all of them preoccupied with something else entirely.

Peter Kaiser arrives at the Finger Lake checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod. Photo by Jeff Schultz

John Schandlemeier is having a decent run, given he had all of three hours to prepare for a 1000-mile race. We wonder how many of his wife Zoya’s clothes he’s been wearing so far. Word has it that a bag with his clothes is waiting on him in Takotna.

Aerial photo of the village of Takotna which has long been a favorite checkpoint for mushers to take the mandatory 24 hour layover.
Photo by Jeff Schultz

The current misfortune champ is Nic Petit who completely dominated 2018 and 2019 races until the Norton Sound. His team vomited last night and were off their pace.

Nicolas Petit at the Huslia checkpoint during the 2017 Iditarod.
Photo by Jeff Schultz

While crossing the Burn, his team took off sprinting after a bison and the whole mess of them wound up in a pile. While the bison really couldn’t have cared less, it caused confusion and delay. Further down the trail, his lead dog found a piece of meat that had been dropped on the trail and went for it. His infamous dog, Joee bit the other dog on the face. It was widely reported that he had decided to scratch, apparently from an overheard telephone call with his business partner Katie Lloyd. The news turned out to be fake, and Nic dropped two dogs and is currently on his 24 in Nikolai. At this writing, he can leave in just about an hour. If he’s still in it to win it, expect to see him a very long way up the trail when the sun comes up tomorrow. Long overnight runs are a hallmark of his mushing style and we wonder if the Flying Frenchman is going to make another appearance in the lead pack, he has 125 miles to make up.

John Baker hunkers behind his sled as his team runs head-on into 25 mph winds on Norton Sound  in a previous race. Photo by Jeff Schultz.

Alaska isn’t done with the race yet; a large storm is brewing up North bringing a gale warning to Unalakleet through the weekend. While the run up the Yukon won’t get that kind of wind, the forecast is for temperatures to rise dramatically so look for teams to shift to running more at night. Coming off a 24 in the morning or afternoon will give a musher a long hard slog until the sun goes down and the trail stiffens up. Look for minor activity as most teams work off their 24s and then the racing will get good. Lots of teams are still capable of being first under the Burled Arch in Nome and anything can happen.

Aliy Zirkle, Joar Leifseth Ulsom and Richie Diehl cook for their team under the glow of the Aurora in the early morning at the Finger Lake checkpoint during last years Iditarod. Photo by Jeff Schultz

1 comment

Great coverage, thank you – I used to live in Fairbanks and the last time I was up there was in 2002. I will be back to stay one day and then see the Iditarod in person, one of my goals in life! I now live in Connecticut and dislike it very much so! I need my peace and tranquility back…So for now – I follow it on the Iditarod site. But now that I have found your site. I think I will be checking in daily – more than once a day! Thank you!

Tari April 17, 2021

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