Iditarod round-up: As more teams start return trip, Seavey holds onto lead in race’s final third

Dallas Seavey’s dogs eat a the McGrath checkpoint on Friday. (Zachariah Hughes/for ADN)

More than two dozen Iditarod teams are retracing their route back to Willow Friday after reaching this year’s turnaround spot.

Four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey and his dogs are holding onto the lead.

The race is reporting no additional COVID-19 cases, and another team calls it quits on the trail.

Here’s our Friday Iditarod update:

‘We get to actually race’: Seavey first out of McGrath with one third of race to go

Dallas Seavey rubbed ointment and massaged his dogs paws in the McGrath checkpoint on Friday. (Zachariah Hughes/for ADN)

Dallas Seavey and his 13 dogs were the first team into the McGrath checkpoint Friday morning — about two-thirds of the way into the competition.

First, Seavey took a required COVID-19 test.

Then, he settled in for his mandatory 8-hour rest, in temperatures around negative-20 degrees.

RELATED: Take a listen to episode three of this year’s Iditapod

He told the Iditarod Insider (the Iditarod’s own media team) that he’s expecting a fast trail ahead. He said he’s ready to really start racing.

“This portion coming up is definitely my favorite portion of the race. This is where we actually get to race, finally, after all year of training,” he said.

“The first third of the race: getting these guys into a routine and a habit. The second third of the race: putting us into position. Now, the final third, we actually get to do it. So that’s kind of fun.”

Seavey and his 13 dogs were the first team to leave McGrath at 5:32 p.m. Friday.

He was followed by Skagway’s Ryan Redington who raced out of McGrath at 7:13 p.m.

Aaron Burmeister of Nome left the checkpoint about 40 minutes later, and Eureka’s Brent Sass left almost an hour after that, at 8:42 p.m.

RELATED: Follow all of our coverage of the 2021 Iditarod here.

Ryan Redington stayed in the Iditarod checkpoint only a few minutes on Thursday before heading back out along the in-bound trail. (Zachariah Hughes/for ADN)

Taking a (literal) pass 

On Thursday evening, Iditarod mushers also started passing one another head-on for the first time ever, as some teams began their return journey on the out-and-back course.

The Anchorage Daily News reported that most sections of trail were just wide enough for teams to squeeze by one another, but a few steep and winding stretches had little room for error.

“Most of it will be fine,” musher Aaron Peck of Calgary told the ADN. “You just gotta hope you don’t smack into a team.”

After pulling into McGrath, Seavey told the ADN that he didn’t have any head-on collisions with other teams, but he did have “some near-misses.”

“I was really actually quite impressed how smooth all those passes were, and there were a lot, man — it was just one after the next for a while,” he said. “Good thing I didn’t have to take a piss ‘cause there wouldn’t have been an opportunity.”

One of Sean Underwood’s dogs cools down after rubbing its head and body in snow upon arriving in McGrath on Wednesday. (Zachariah Hughes/for ADN)
Nic Petit set up a thin tent hung on old wooden stakes from past races, and spent the night resting inside to avoid the commotion in the airplane hangar set up for rest in McGrath on Wednesday. (Zachariah Hughes/for ADN)
Jeremy Traska spreads colorful blankets over his dogs as the wind picked up midday in McGrath on Wednesday. (Zachariah Hughes/for ADN)
Jessie Holmes takes a break from cooking his dogs a meal to nuzzle with two wheel dogs. In Ophir during the Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Wednesday. (Zachariah Hughes/for ADN)

Additional COVID-19 testing turns up no new positives

As for COVID-19, the Iditarod says it’s done additional testing since musher Gunnar Johnson tested positive for the illness on his way into McGrath on Wednesday.

RELATED: Iditarod musher tests positive for COVID-19, removed from race

A musher on the back of a sled wearing a red-white-and blue hat.
Gunnar Johnson on Sunday. (Bill Roth / ADN)

By Friday afternoon, the testing had turned up no additional cases, according to Dr. Jodie Guest, an epidemiologist working with the race. 

She said by email that officials still had not identified the two mushers Johnson shared a tent with at a prior checkpoint, in Nikolai.

The race is now adding more testing on the trail “out of an abundance of caution,” she said.

All mushers will get tested on their way back through McGrath, Rainy Pass and Skwentna.

Musher Rick Casillo calls it quits

Meanwhile, another team has called it quits.

Talkeetna’s Rick Casillo dropped out of the race just before 10 a.m. Friday at the checkpoint of Iditarod. 

He had 13 dogs and “made the decision to scratch in the best interest of his race team,” said a brief Iditarod statement.

The checkpoint of Iditarod is nestled in a bend in the Iditarod River. (Zachariah Hughes/for ADN)

That leaves 40 teams still on the trail.

As for when the first team might cross the finish line?

Well, anything could still happen.

But according to the Seaveys not in the race — based on spreadsheets and Excel formulas — it could be Sunday night.

Matt Failor’s dogs rest under fleecy blankets in McGrath on Wednesday. (Zachariah Hughes/for ADN)
Matt Hall’s sled bag is covered with writing, including encouraging notes from family and the mileage between checkpoints along the route. Photographed in McGrath during the Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Wednesday. (Zachariah Hughes/for ADN)
Sean Underwood’s dogs arriving at the McGrath checkpoint on Wednesday. (Zachariah Hughes/for ADN)

Reach reporter Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8447.

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