Rest day: Iditarod teams start parking in checkpoints for their day-long layovers

The checkpoint at Takotna, filled with sleds and dog teams as mushers take their 24-hour rests on Wednesday. Takotna is about 330 miles into the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

Takotna — With more than a quarter of the trail behind them, some teams in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog were parked at checkpoints on Wednesday, taking their required day-long breaks.

That included Jessie Royer, who placed third in last year’s Iditarod. Royer and her 14 dogs arrived first to Takotna at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, a community at about mile 330 of the 1,000-mile trail. She quickly declared her plans to stay for 24 hours.

After an eight-and-a-half hour run from Nikolai, Royer said that she wanted to maximize the benefit of the long break.

“So I guess that’s somewhat of a push, but I don’t want to take too much out of them coming into a 24, because they’re not going to recuperate as much as you want to see on a 24,” Royer said. “You’ve got to be careful not to take too much out or you won’t get enough back.”

Jessie Royer walks dogs in Takotna on Wednesday. (Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

Aniak musher Richie Diehl and his 14-dog team pulled into Takotna three minutes after Royer. He said he was gauging his team over the last several miles before deciding to settle in for the break.

“After going through the Alaska Range and stuff, this definitely seems like the right spot for them,” said Diehl, who placed 11th in the 2019 Iditarod. “And just getting hot water, and getting a meal, it’s nice and easy to operate here, and you’re maximizing your time for taking care of your dogs.”

One of Matthew Failor’s sleepy dogs in Takotna on Wednesday. (Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

The 24-hour break means several big meals for the dogs, the first extended rest for the musher and a chance to reset for the next stretch of racing. Teams make up their starting differentials during the layover, and race officials also typically check their mandatory gear, such as an axe and cooker.

Related: Iditarod mushers say the trail to Nikolai was so smooth that it even put some of them to sleep

There are two other required breaks during the race: Mushers must make an eight-hour stop at a checkpoint on the Yukon River, and another eight-hour stop in White Mountain, 77 miles from the finish line in Nome.

For the next few days, mushers will leapfrog one another as they take their 24-hour stops in different checkpoints along the trail.

By Wednesday morning, about 15 teams were resting in Takotna, while a half dozen had pushed on to Ophir, a quiet checkpoint at a ghost town another 25 miles down the trail.

Related: Follow all of our coverage of the 2020 Iditarod here.

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Ben Matheson is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

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