Iditarod teams remain large. Most mushers are still running teams of 14 or more dogs. Mushers are surprised at how many dogs fared well through some of the roughest trail they’ve seen in the race’s history.
Four-time champion, Jeff King has towed a large trailer behind his sled since the start of the race. He carries one or two dogs in it at a time while the rest of the team travels down the trail.
“I’m using it both proactively for a dog that’s super important to later on in this race and in the event I see one that has a little tick of lameness, the first thing I do is give it a ride and then evaluate it so that if there’s something there, it’s not aggravated,” he said.
King has been resting his dogs en route for years. He says it saves energy for later in the race and takes some wear and tear of his equipment.
Wear and tear is something this year’s mushers know plenty about. They faced miles of rough and rugged, snow-free trail early on. But Canadian Michelle Phillips says mushers are definitely roughed up more than then the dogs.
“It seems that way, yeah. Definitely,” she said.
Her legs are covered in huge purple bruises. Phillips pulls a little blue vial out of her pocket. It’s medicine for both her and her dogs.
“It’s a homeopathic remedy arnica,” she said. “I’ve gone through half a bottle and anyone that’s stiff or sore is taking it as well.”
She is known for the homemade remedies she uses to treat stiff and sore dogs.
“It’s a whole blend that I roll on and I make my own massage oil and foot ointment that’s got emu oil and a bunch of herbs and essential oils,” Phillips said.
Hans Gatt spent some of his 24-hour layover massaging and walking his dogs. He still has his full team. He says he’s not letting anyone go until he has to.
“I’m not dropping anybody if they don’t have to be dropped,” Gatt said. “It would be a hoot to get to Nome with 16, but I know it’s not going to happen.”
Well over half the field still has teams numbering in the teens. Those with 16 dogs will have plenty of speed and power as they push forward toward the Yukon River.