Day 8 of Iditarod 2020: Waerner Holds Lead Out of Koyuk, Two More Scratch

Thomas Waerner of Norway, looking to complete only his second running of this race, is also getting closer to potentially his first Iditarod victory. Throughout the course of the day, Waerner continued to hold first position through two more checkpoints, a lead that he originally established before he reached Unalakleet.

KNOM’s trail reporter Emily Hofstaedter was at the Shaktoolik “old site” to greet the Norwegian veteran last night, as he got some unexpected rest in a heated shelter. Before KNOM’s Hofstaedter was preparing to fly out of that makeshift checkpoint, she spoke with Aaron Peck about his decision to scratch from the race. Hear some of that conversation below, which was featured in KNOM’s 2pm race update this afternoon.

Aaron Peck, on the right, helps fellow musher Jessie Holmes, on the left, at the makeshift Shaktoolik checkpoint. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2020).

The official reason Peck gave for scratching today was “in the best interest of his dog team.” That was the same reason Aniak’s Richie Diehl gave earlier in the afternoon, when he took himself out of the race in Unalakleet. According to one of Alaska Public Media’s reporters, Zach Hughes, Diehl chose not to speak to any media on the trail regarding his decision to scratch from this year’s race. So we may have to wait to find out more information about the nature of Diehl’s decision. He had 11 dogs in harness at the time.

With those latest scratches there are now 49 mushers left in this year’s race. The current red lantern is rookie Quince Mountain who checked out of Galena ahead of Kaci Murringer, however the latest standings show Murringer passed Mountain on the trail to Nulato.

The “old site” outside of Shaktoolik features some abandoned and run down buildings. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2020).

These back of the pack mushers are still a long ways off from the Norton Sound coast, 130 miles to be exact, but they are getting closer to the coastal checkpoint that has some new logistics in place. According to Iditarod and our information from KNOM’s trail reporters, the checkpoint at Shaktoolik is no longer located in the community. Instead it has been moved two miles away to the “old site” for Shaktoolik, which does not have veterinarians or Iditarod officials staffing the checkpoint.

What the community checkpoint does have though, is elder and Iditarod volunteer of sorts, Hanna Takak. KNOM’s Emily Hofstaedter spoke with Takak in Shaktoolik earlier today, click below to hear that full interview.

A photo of Shaktoolik elder Hanna Takak taken in her livingroom.
Hanna Takak at home in Shaktoolik, seated in front of a portrait of her late husband. Photo: JoJo Phillips.

Looking at the race standings, by 8pm Monday evening, the top five teams were all out of Koyuk, however Waerner was less than 20 miles away from Elim by then, keeping about a 25 mile gap between him and the next musher.

Can Waerner be the first into White Mountain and the last mandatory layover in this year’s race? Tune into KNOM Radio tomorrow in Nome, or visit our website for more Iditarod race coverage.

Image at top: Thomas Waerner shows appreciation to his dog team as he’s getting booties on them in Unalakleet. Photo from Ben Matheson, KNOM (2020).