Iditarod mushers start the race with up to 16 dogs. The can drop dogs along the trail, but they have to finish with six. Many mushers will drop dogs in Iditarod after completing the longest single run along the trail. It’s 80 miles from Ophir, but most teams remain large halfway through the race.
A calm evening turned into a blustery night as gusting winds rustled dried grass outside the musher cabin.
But the weather hasn’t affected Jake Berkowitz. A number of mushers have referred to his team as a “freight train.” As the wind started to pick up, he pulled out of Iditarod with all of the 16 dogs he started with.
“Oh, I’ve never driven a dog team that’s this competitive and this eager to go at the same time,” Berkowitz said.
There are only a few teams that haven’t dropped any dogs halfway through the race. The majority of mushers have only dropped two or three. Aaron Burmeister left Iditarod with 15 dogs. He says it’s a sign of high quality dog care. When he started the race, he had a few dogs he wasn’t sure about.
“The team as a whole is great, but a little dog I wouldn’t have considered ever even dreaming of taking her on Iditarod, she’s just kind of the token of the kennel that we kept training and working with, her name is Java. She’s a little 40 pound black female. She’s got a great personal, great dog, but I got her for breeding,” Burmeister said.
But Java stepped up. She’s been running in lead for the team.
“It’s very fun it’s made it a lot of fun to watch her on the run and it gives you something to be excited about for the future because she’s great little dog,” Burmeister said.
Lance Mackey is running an entirely new team of dogs this year. The four-time champion has won the race with 15, but he’s also driven teams as small as seven. He says he wants his crew of young, inexperienced dogs to enjoy the race.
“No matter what they do from here on out, it’s been a stellar performance for this group and you can’t help but smile seeing he young ones stand up and eat and do the things I want to see them doing,” Mackey said.
Vets say the majority of dogs dropped so far have had minor wrist and shoulder injuries. They haven’t seen what they refer to as a “red dog.” That’s a dog that needs to be flown out of a check point for immediate medical attention yet.
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