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Nipping at Petit’s Heels, Mushers Strategize Rest to Keep Chase into the Yukon

Musher in white parka mushes sled dog team down snowy trail
Jessica Klejka mushing into the Takotna checkpoint. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media.

While Iditarod musher Nic Petit races at the front of the pack, a dangerous group of mushers are preparing to make their move and capitalize on any opportunities.

KNOM’s Ben Matheson has more on the race that’s yet to unfold on the Yukon River.

While mushers are taking their 8-hour rest, they’re gearing up to peak at the right time. Bethel musher Pete Kaiser had one of the fastest run times Friday into Shageluk. But what he’s focused on is consistency.

“One run you’re fast, the next run you’re not, so we’re trying to string more in a row, now, and get some consistency, because the first half of the race has been real up and down.”

Kaiser has often been conservative in the early parts of the race and waited to make a big push with a more rested team. Matthew Failor got into Shageluk to time his 8-hour break to avoid the heat of the day. He’s being extra careful to prepare his team for the big runs ahead, including with a longer stop in Iditarod.

“That gave me 5 hours of rest there when other mushers were staying for four. I’m starting to bank rest for this last leg. I’m not thinking about other mushers but trying to make sure we’re doing everything right.”

These Yukon trails are well-traveled by local snowmachines, but there is some snow in the forecast that could shake things up if the trail becomes marginal.  That could realign the duel between Joar Leifseth Ulsom and Petit at the front. The defending champion finished his 8-hour break as the sun was coming up. He doesn’t plan to hold back in these conditions.

“Unless it’s super bad, we’ve got Nic out there, he likes breaking trail.”

Mushers will never speak openly about their exact plans for getting their team to the coast, but last year’s rookie of the year, Jessie Holmes, says he has a few tricks up his sleeve.

“These dogs have the ability to go long and fast. I haven’t used that quite yet. I used it one time, that’s what I used the rest for is so I can try to make big moves when the dogs are ready, and I made one already.”

Fresh off his 24, Holmes made a long run from Ophir to Iditarod to climb the standings across the rugged terrain. The race is switching from the rolling hills in gold rush country to wide expanses of the Yukon River. If the trail is set up, teams can log big miles. Paige Drobny arrived into Shageluk in the 9th position and is eager to hit the river.

“They really like trails they can move on, we haven’t had that for a little bit. The run into Iditarod when we would hit road like this, they would get cruising along really fast, it seems like that makes everyone really happy. With the bumpy trails, and when we’re pushing and pulling constantly, I don’t think that’s probably very comfortable for them.”

And as more teams finish their rests, they will run with fresh legs throughout the night.

Image at top: Jessica Klejka mushing into the Takotna checkpoint. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media.

Musher with sled dog team on snowy trail amid a forest
Jessie Royer mushing into the Iditarod checkpoint. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media.

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