The 2020 Iditarod Dog Sled Race continued apace over the weekend, with the mushers and their teams inching every closer to Nome. It has been a long, challenging, and weird race thus far, and not just because of the abundance of snow that is creating difficulties for the team. Even in the wilds of Alaska, the coronavirus is having an impact on “the last great race,” where steps are being taken to limit exposure to rapidly-spreading disease.
As the second week of the race dawns, the lead mushers are now in and out of the Kaltag checkpoint and are steaming towards Unalakleet at the 714 mile (1149 km) mark. At this point, the vast majority of the racers have now taken their mandatory 8- and 24-hour rest breaks, so it comes down to who will have the strongest team heading into the home stretch on the way to Nome. As of this writing, the lead musher—and fastest racer—is Norwegian Thomas Warner. Right now, his dogs seem well rested and strong, outpacing all of the rivals who are trying to catch him. They include Brent Sass and Jessie Royer, who are currently running in second and third place respectively. Aaron Burmeister is in fourth, with Wade Marrs holding down the fifth spot. Four time champ Mitch Seavey lurks in sixth place.
As of now, the top 18 mushers are in and out of the Kaltag checkpoint, which is a bit unusual at this stage of the race. Usually there are a few front runners who have picked up some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack. And while there is indeed spacing between these teams, the fact that so many have passed through the checkpoint at the 3/4 mark of the race says a lot about the competition. Deep snow on the course has kept some teams in check and slowed things down a bit, but as the teams continue, it still feels like it is just about anyone’s race to win.
Over the weekend, the mushers did get a reminder that the novel coronavirus is having a very real impact on the world, even as their race continues. The Galena checkpoint ended up being moved out of town to help limit the exposure between the racers and the residence. All of the veterinarians, judges, and race volunteers were still waiting for the mushers, but had been relocated to a point out on a frozen river. This kept the teams and their dogs from going into town in effort to avoid spreading the virus further. It also meant that there wasn’t a warm place for racers to sleep inside, which may have impacted race strategy some. The news was given to the teams 200 miles (321 km) ahead of their arrival in Galena, which sits at the 545 mile (877 km) point.
Right now, it looks like we should have the winning musher arriving in Nome sometime around Wednesday of this week. The deep snow is keeping the pace a bit slower than usual, but judging from the current conditions and race pace, it seems that is a solid estimate of when they’ll arrive. Of course, we’ll continue to follow the race closely over the next few days and announce the winner when the first musher reaches Nome.