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Top Teams Move Up Norton Sound Coast, Check into Shaktoolik ‘Old Site’

Thomas Waerner and twelve dogs pulled into Shaktoolik around 9:30pm on Sunday evening, maintaining their lead in the 2020 Iditarod trail sled dog race.

Waerner feels good about the lead he has on the other teams, he reached Shaktoolik about five hours before Jessie Royer in second position, although that is unofficial based on the gps tracker, not official standings. Waerner said last night he planned to use his time in Shaktoolik wisely.

“I will use it to rest. It’s more important that I give the dogs the rest they need to recover and to perform the whole way.”

Normally mushers are treated by a host of volunteers from around the world in the Shaktoolik National Guard armory. But on Friday, the Native Village of Shaktoolik decided to close the official Iditarod checkpoint as a precautionary measure to fight the spread of COVID-19. The plan was for mushers to have access to their straw and drop-bags at a location two miles outside of town and that was it.

But some community members didn’t like the idea of leaving the mushers on their own. So, they found an old home that was still standing at the old village site and decided to make it a shelter. The community moved from the old site to its current location in the 1970’s after a significant flood.

Now, Shaktoolik residents have fitted the small house at the old site with a wood stove, a cot, and plenty of food. They’ve even drilled a water hole in the ice so that mushers don’t have to melt snow for their own water.

An abandoned building at the Shaktoolik “old site” two miles outside of the community’s current location. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2020).

When he heard the news of the checkpoint closure earlier in the race, Waener said he had been preparing to sleep out on the sea ice near Shaktoolik.

“It’s really nice that they have done this. We have been racing for many days now so its very nice to have a place to go in and relax a little. It’s OK to be outside but it’s very nice to have a little, a little extra!”

One of the only things the make-shift checkpoint doesn’t have is a race veterinarian. And there isn’t an official checker from the Iditarod so their check-in times will not be tracked and tallied on the official leaderboard. It’s similar to a hospitality stop on a race like the Yukon Quest.

The next official checkpoint is Koyuk, about 50 miles away from Shaktoolik. Waener was the first musher to arrive there as well, checking in at 9:30am this morning.

Image at top: Thomas Waerner of Norway mushing outside of Cripple during the 2020 Iditarod. Photo from Zach Hughes, Alaska Public Media (2020).

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