It’s the fourth day of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and an already-shortened trail has gotten a little shorter.
Plus, Eureka’s Brent Sass and his 14 dogs are first to the race’s halfway point.
A musher has tested positive for COVID-19.
And, off the trail, Aliy Zirkle has made it back home and is resting, after suffering a concussion and other injuries while racing.
Here’s our mid-week Iditarod update:
A 20-mile chop
Officials say teams will no longer loop from the checkpoint of Iditarod, out to the remote ghost town of Flat and back.
Race Director Mark Nordman said there’s too much loose snow in the area.
“The Iditarod trailbreaker crew has had a challenging time breaking the trail open due to the sheer volume of accumulated snow, and has been unable to dig out a safe, well-marked trail to allow teams to travel to Flat,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
The trail to Flat would have been new for Iditarod teams.
The usual 1,000-mile race from Willow to Nome was rerouted this year to the shorter, out-and-back course to avoid putting mushers, race volunteers and others in the village checkpoints north of the Alaska Range and along the Bering Sea coast, as a precaution against spreading COVID-19.
Eliminating the Flat detour cuts roughly 20 miles from what would have been an 850-mile trail.
Now, teams will race to the checkpoint of Iditarod and turn around, backtracking to Willow.
Brent Sass first to halfway
Brent Sass and 14 sled dogs reached the checkpoint of Iditarod at 6:08 p.m. Wednesday.
For the first-place arrival, Sass will get to pick his prize: either $3,000 in gold nuggets or a smartphone with a year of free GCI service.
Sass is a three-time 1,000-mile Yukon Quest winner, who placed fourth in last year’s Iditarod.
He and his dogs will take their mandatory 24-hour stop at the Iditarod checkpoint, near race mile 430.
Meanwhile, teams just coming off their daylong layovers are on their way, including Dallas Seavey, Joar Leifseth Ulsom and Pete Kaiser, all former race champions.
Johnson tests positive for COVID-19, Mackey drops out, Zirkle resting at home
The number of mushers still on the trail dropped to 42 on Wednesday.
That’s after Gunnar Johnson of Minnesota was withdrawn. Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 at the McGrath checkpoint, near race mile 310.
The Iditarod announced the positive test in a statement late Wednesday. It’s the first confirmed coronavirus case during the competition.
Also on Wednesday, rookie Brenda Mackey of Two Rivers dropped out of the Iditarod in Nikolai, near race mile 260. She had nine dogs and “made the decision to scratch in the best interest of her race team,” said a brief Iditarod statement.
Mackey’s uncle is four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey. She’s the third musher to scratch from the race since it started.
The first was Minnesota musher Cindy Gallea who became sick on the trail.
Also, Iditarod fan favorite Aliy Zirkle’s race ended Monday night after she fell while racing to the Rohn checkpoint.
Zirkle told Iditarod Insider that she suffered a concussion and dislocated shoulder. The Alaska Air National Guard helicoptered her to an Anchorage hospital.
By Tuesday night, Zirkle had made it back home to Two Rivers, near Fairbanks, according to a post on her kennel’s website.
“She has more doctor appointments set in the next little while but she is being well taken care of,” the SP Kennel post said. “She appreciates all the love being sent her way.”
An update on Aliy and the dogs. “Aliy will keep moving forward.” Edit: seem y’all crashed the website :). Here’s what…Posted by SP Kennel – Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore on Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Reach reporter Tegan Hanlon at email@example.com or 907-550-8447.