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Temperatures Drop, New Leaders Forge Ahead on Trail

Hot Water Station in Nikolai. Photo: Davis Hovey, KNOM (2020).

North of the Alaska Range, along the Iditarod trail, temperatures dropped significantly below zero on Tuesday. As most mushers were resting during the heat of the day and running in the colder weather, a few leaders started to emerge from the race pack of 56 mushers.

Back-to-back Yukon Quest champion Brent Sass has returned to this 1,000-mile sled dog race, after sitting it out for the last three years. Less than 300 miles into the 2020 Iditarod, Sass blew through Nikolai Tuesday afternoon in first position, which didn’t faze him at all.

“Not even going to think about it. We’re not even 250 miles into this baby so…this is all just for show, but, you know, it’s never a bad thing to be in front. I get to watch all the teams come by.”

-Brent Sass
Brent Sass Team Side By Side With Another in Nikolai. Photo: Davis Hovey, KNOM (2020).

Sass had the joy of watching a dozen or so teams pass him on the trail Tuesday towards the next checkpoint of McGrath. The 2020 Yukon Quest winner elected to run another 12 miles or so out of Nikolai before finally stopping to take about four hours of rest.

Jessie Royer, coming off her best Iditarod finish in 3rd place last year, was one of those mushers surging ahead of Sass Tuesday afternoon. By the time she arrived in McGrath, Royer told Race Director Mark Nordman about her new first.

Royer: “You know I’ve never been first to an Iditarod checkpoint.”

Nordman: “Well you are now.”

Royer: “And this is an awesome checkpoint to be first at.”

Royer was awarded a pair of customized beaver fur mittens and matching hat from Alaska Air Transit for being the first musher to reach McGrath. Minutes later, though, a community favorite in McGrath, Richie Diehl of Aniak pulled in briefly to give his relatives hugs and kisses before giving chase to Royer.

Both teams are currently taking their 24-hour layovers in Takotna.

Although he was further back on the trail Tuesday, Jessie Holmes of Nenana said in Nikolai that he is looking to make that surge to the top of the standings very soon.

“Once this heat goes away and then I think I’ll give chase, try to put myself in a good position for the first time in all three of my Iditarods in my 24 (hour layover). I’ve always kind of fell off going into the 24 and ended up pretty far behind. I’ve been able to take a lot of that back, but I don’t want to have to have so much to take back, because maybe I want to give some more away in the next part of the race by being conservative, up to the river and down the river part way.”

-Jessie Holmes
Jessie Holmes Giving Love to His Dogs in Nikolai. Photo: Davis Hovey, KNOM (2020).

By the end of Day 3 in this year’s Iditarod, Holmes was out of McGrath heading towards Takotna and some of the race leaders had begun their 24-hour layovers. That includes rookie Martin Massicotte of Quebec who declared his 24-hour layover after arriving into Nikolai at 2:42 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon.

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