Teams work out the kinks in the Iditarod’s early stages

(Photo by Patrick Yack/Alaska Public Media)
(Photo by Patrick Yack/Alaska Public Media)

It was busy overnight in Skwentna as teams passed through the second checkpoint on the Iditarod Trail and made their way into the Alaska Range.

Teams are shaking out the kinks early as they settle into race mode.

Spectators stood around a blazing orange, crackling bonfire. They swigged beer and swung their hips in time as a live band played a few tunes. Snowmachines buzzed by on the river and the northern lights glowed faintly.

In the distance, mushers’ headlamps illuminated the trail.

By midnight, teams were arriving in quick succession, some of them passed through quickly, others stopped for a short rest. Still others pulled in to make some repairs.

Kelly Maixner was crunched down on the ground with a drill in one hand. A box of tools was splayed open nearby.

“Yeah, I had a lot of kinks to shake out I guess,” he said.

Maixner says he broke his sled brake before he even left the start line in Willow.

“I was standing on it because it was all ice and yeah I just broke the bar and that led to a wipe out on Corral Hill that broke some other stuff, but nothing I can’t hobble together,” Maixner said.

He says his dog team is no worse for the wear.

Travis Beals says he and his team are also trying to find their rhythm.

“I don’t know how I managed it but I tipped over like three or four different times already with dogs in the crate and all sorts of stuff going on,” Beals said. “But we’re just letting them get in the groove and taking it easy.”

When he pulled into the checkpoint, Beals was carrying a dog named Wrangler who had a sore wrist.

“I’ve never had a sore wrist on that dog in his life, so it’s not a big deal,” he said.

Teams now head into the Alaska Range.

They’ll navigate the notoriously challenging Happy River Steps and what could prove to be a wet and treacherous run through Dalzell Gorge between Rainy Pass and Rohn.