Nome Musher Aaron Burmeister has the Iditarod lead. He pulled into the remote checkpoint of Cripple at 3:25 this afternoon. Jeff King followed 40 minutes later. A number of mushers appear to be taking their 24 hour lay overs in Takotna, including Aliy Zirkle, Robert Sorlie and Dallas and Mitch Seavey.
A dozen mushers have scratched, many with bruised bodies and battered sleds from the rough and snowless trail into Nikolai.
Iditarod teams are making their way across the Interior region where the trail is soft, smooth and covered in snow – a far cry from the rough and rocky trail that took many mushers out of the race earlier this week.
Four-time champion Martin Buser is one of only a few mushers to have completed his mandatory 24-hour rest. He blew through McGrath this morning on what he calls an unorthodox race plan.
“More bigger better faster!” Buser said. “No, I’m, just going to go out here and take a camp and just camp my way to Nome!”
Buser’s energetic dogs trotted quickly out of the checkpoint after a quick stop for water. They blew through Takotna where 26-year-old Pete Kaiser of Bethel decided to take his 24-hour rest.
“It was one of the plans I had. I was set up t do it other places also, but I decided to do it here,” Kaiser said. “It was hard to pass up and I didn’t really see it as a benefit to this team to go any farther.”
Kaiser has run the race four times, but eight of Kaiser’s dogs are rookies to the Iditarod trail.
“This is a young team this year that I am driving and they look pretty good now and I just figured let’s stop while the look good and just see how the rest of the race goes,” Kaiser said.
Most of the teams coming into Takotna are still large. Most mushers left the start line with 16 dogs. There’s currently only one team among the top-30 that is running fewer than 13 dogs.
Curt Perano, the Kiwi musher, says he’s surprised considering how rough the first 200 miles of trail were.
“I would have thought we would have had a lot of shoulders and wrists but the funny thing is even though we hate it, the dogs just love that sort of stuff,” Perano said. “They just love that windy fast trail I mean you can see they just dig in harder and you ask them to stop and they just want to keep going and their attitudes!”
With just over 300 miles behind them teams will still have to contend with the Interior, where temperatures are forecast to dip below zero tonight. The Yukon River also lies ahead before teams reach the Bering Sea Coast.