Iditapod: Heartbreak for Petit as team quits on the coast

Nicolas Petit mushing into Unalakleet on Sunday in the lead of the 2019 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media photo)

The team of Girdwood musher Nicolas Petit stalled on the edge of Norton Bay, allowing Bethel’s Pete Kaiser to race past, as well as several others. Petit had been leading for most of the race, and Monday afternoon, it was still uncertain if he’d even finish. We hear from Petit, and we hear from Kaiser who now might be set up to win his first Iditarod. That, plus explanations of Mushergrams, Teacher on the Trail and… whatever happened to Pilot Rob?

More: Team Petit stalls in Iditarod, Kaiser seizes lead

Monday morning saw a huge lead change in the 2019 Iditarod, as the team of Girdwood musher Nicolas Petit stalled on the coast, allowing Bethel’s Pete Kaiser to move into first place. At least three others also passed Petit.

Petit headed out of Unalakleet after several hours rest on Sunday ahead of Kaiser, Joar Leifseth Ulsom and Jessie Royer, who blew through the checkpoint. Petit was a couple hours ahead and was first to Shaktoolik about 8 p.m. Sunday, stopping just a few minutes.

It all fell apart a couple hours later. The GPS tracker at Iditarod.com showed Team Petit’s speed slow before fully stopping short of a shelter cabin on Norton Bay, and he and the dogs had to camp out on the sea ice.

This was definitely not according to plan, and the Iditarod Insider crew talked to Petit early Monday while the dogs slept. In a recording, the Iditarod Insider videographer noted that Petit was not far from where his team veered off the trail last year long enough for Ulsom to slip past and win the race.

“Right about here, past here, but yeah, something about right here, huh?” Petit said in the video. “Maybe soemthing else that day that’s in there, too, some residue from last year. What’s up ahead. But they know where the cabin is. I’m really surprised that they didn’t just go for the cabin. I don’t know what the hell’s exactly going on. But we’ll see if dog teams coming by wake them up at all. Because they don’t want to, they’re all fine, they all ate good, there’s no orthopedic issues.”

“How are you doing?” the videographer asked.

“Well, I ain’t moving. So I’m not doing that great,” Petit answered.

Petit had been doing some long runs prior to stopping, and it appears the dogs may have quit on him out on the sea ice.

According to the Iditarod’s official trail description, the usually 50-mile leg from Shaktoolik to Koyuk  — longer this year as the trail hugs the coast more, avoiding open water — is “bleak, flat, and deadly monotonous … dogs are put off by the white expanse and won’t go or will try to turn back. Every year teams stall here; some drivers are able to get their teams going after a rest, and some can get their leaders to follow another team across. Some have to scratch. This is where a “coast leader” is invaluable; these are leaders used to running in this environment and who aren’t fazed by winds or wide-open spaces.”

Petit told Iditarod Insider he’d tried to coax the dogs to the shelter cabin. He also pointed to a specific moment to explain what happened to the dogs.

“The young dog started — he went to poop or pee or something, and Joey was behind him, and he’s been kind of picking on him most of the trip, and he got a hold of him at one point,” Petit said. “He jumped on him while he was on the ground, and I yelled at Joey, and everybody heard Daddy yelling — it doesn’t happen — and then they wouldn’t go anymore. Anywhere. So we camped here. We’ll see what happens. I don’t really like any of that.”

After that interview, Petit’s team fell to third place, then fifth, and later even lower in the standings.