The Nikolai checkpoint of the Iditarod sled dog race is a busy place today as a number of teams have arrived in the bustling interior town with a population of about 100. It seems to be a popular place for many of the mushers to take their first rest stop as they let their dogs recover from a long and arduous first couple of days on the trail. The section following Rainy Pass proved to be as challenging as predicted, but most made it out none the worse for wear. Now they look at the long miles ahead and start plotting their strategy.
Since yesterday’s update the leaderboard has started to give us a few hints as to who the contenders will be this year. At the 263-mile mar, Aaron Burmeister holds a 41 minute lead over Iditarod legend Lance Mackey who is just ten minutes in front of Aliy Zirkle. After struggling in last month’s Yukon Quest, Mackey’s team is looking good so far, blitzing his way into Nikolai from Rohn at a blistering pace.
Two familiar names round out the top five in the form of Paul Gebhardt and Mitch Seavey. Other notable racers include Jeff King lurking in seventh place, fan favorite DeeDee Jonrowe running in the 12th position and defending champ Dallas Seavey in 17. Yesterday’s leader, Martin Buser, is all the way back in 50th place as he obviously has taken some time to rest along the way.
Now that the initial rush of the start of the race is out of the way, the top mushers are thinking about their strategy. Before they make it to Nome, each of them will have to take a mandatory eight our rest and a mandatory 24 hour rest. Where they choose to spend that downtime is totally up to them and plays a role in saving the strength of their dogs for the stretch run. Each has their preference of where they like to stop, but the Takotna CP has long been a favorite for taking a pitstop thanks to the popular home cooking there. I suspect we’ll see more than a few mushers elect to make that village, which falls at the 329 mile mark, their temporary home in the next few days.
There is still lots of racing to be done. We’re only about a quarter of the way through the race and already it is shaping up to be a classic. Stay tuned for more updates in the next few days.