Mid-pack and back-of-the-pack Iditarod mushers meet adventure on race trail

Spirits in Takotna were high Thursday morning, with a cluster of well-fed and rested mushers getting set to end their 24-hour rests. The front-runners who rested here like Mitch Seavey and Pete Kaiser roared back onto the trail late last night. The mushers camped out now, like Ryne Olson, are on a different pace.

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Veteran Ryne Olson rested in Takotna in the 2016 Iditard. (Photo by Ben Matheson / Alaska Public Media.)
Veteran Ryne Olson, pictured here at the Willow start, rested in Takotna in the 2016 Iditard. (Photo by Ben Matheson / Alaska Public Media.)

“It’s interesting because we’re trying to do about an equal run, equal rest schedule, which I always thought was a middle of the pack schedule. But I’m coming to find that it’s actually a back of the pack schedule,” said Olson.

Olson is not trying to win, she just wants to get the bulk of her team familiar with the trail to Nome for Iditarods yet to come. And with that, the burden of competing is off a bit.

“There’s a certain camaraderie with back of the pack that you don’t get at the front of the pack. Everyone relaxed, and having a good time. So, by no means do I say that it’s a bad thing, I’ve had a really good time traveling with everybody,” said Olson.

That leeway made it easier for Olson to not get discouraged when an unplanned accident surprised her on her en route to Nikolai.

“We were running through the [Farewell] Burn and we actually saw the bison. There’s no snow, so there’s no way to stop. My 15 dog team was just flying after it and I was trying to slow them down, and I’m assuming it happened then. But one of my dogs left, he got a stick to his privates, poor guy. But it was just a flesh wound, so they were able to suture it up at Nikolai, and he’s good to go,” said Olson.

Olson is caring for her dogs one spot over from the musher who reached Takotna one place ahead of her, rookie Tom Jamgochian of Nome. A few days in, Jamgochian says the trail has been a mix of high highs, and some very low lows.

“Coming into Nikolai I hadn’t slept at all in the race, it was day two or three, and I was wildly hallucinating heading in. And I felt like my dogs were crap, and this race was crap, and everything was terrible. And I got in, and my wife’s uncle is the checker and the first thing he asked was ‘What took you so long?’ Which didn’t improve things,” said Jamgochian.

Rookie Tom Jamgochian pulled into the checkpoint at Takotna to 24 just minutes after Mitch Seavey left after his 24. (Photo by Zach Hughes, KSKA.)
Rookie Tom Jamgochian pulled into the checkpoint at Takotna to 24 just minutes after Mitch Seavey left after his 24. (Photo by Zach Hughes, KSKA.)

Jamgochian says he felt better after getting a quick nap. But a pile of mushers was roused from their spot about two hours after he closed his eyes.

“We were sleeping in a shop room in the school, and they told us they had to build a coffin for a pending funeral, so they said ‘you have to leave,’ so that’s why they woke us up,” said Jamgochian.

Race Marshal Mark Nordman confirmed that a ceremony is being planned in Nikolai for a young woman who recently passed. Jamgochian says all the mushers were understanding, and those who needed to keep resting relocated.

“People just slept in a room that seemed like an entryway to a bathroom,” said Jamgochian.

Jamgochian is planning on breaking up his run to the Yukon with short camping stops along the way. The Berington twins, Anna and Kristy, were prepped for some camping along the trail as they got ready to depart Takotna.

Anna Berington, pictured here at the Willow start, is racing to Nome in her fifth Iditarod. (Photo by Ben Matheson / Alaska Public Media.)
Anna Berington, pictured here at the Willow start, is racing to Nome in her fifth Iditarod. (Photo by Ben Matheson / Alaska Public Media.)

“Because we’re not at the front of the pack or in it to win a bunch of money it does kinda feel like we’re just going on a trip.” “yeah, it does,” said Anna and Kristy Berington.

The sisters are traveling together at this point, which they say makes the miles more enjoyable.

“It’s fun to run ideas past someone, or if you have a dog issue or maybe if it’s really bad weather you take turns breaking trail, stuff like that.” “Do you guys train together, too?” “Yeah,” said Anna and Kristy Berington.

Mushers in Takotna were feeling positive as they face two-thirds of the trail yet to come.