The front runners in this year’s Iron Dog departed from the Unalakleet checkpoint on the morning of Monday, Feb. 21. First-position team Tyler Aklestad and Nick Olstad hit the trail at 9:00 a.m. sharp, with second-position team Casey Boylan and Bryan Leslie hot on their heels a mere five minutes later. Third-position contenders Mike Morgan of Nome and Chris Olds checked out northbound shortly afterward, at 9:32 a.m.
Andrew Gumley and Klinton VanWingerden departed Unalakleet about ten minutes before Morgan and Olds, but they have used one less hour of layover time, which puts them in fourth position overall.
All the teams still in the race have at least departed the Ophir checkpoint as of publication time.
Despite subpar weather at the starting line, trail conditions this year are better than many expected. According to Iron Dog board president Roger Brown, “The trail is fast, it’s like record-breaking fast. I don’t even know how to describe it without making it sound like I’m exaggerating.”
The racers had to deal with a curveball after the race start. The city of Kaltag changed its checkpoint to a gas-and-go station only, which means that riders can stop just long enough to refuel and then must depart, so any team planning to layover there had to adjust their plans accordingly.
So far, five teams have scratched this year. Notably, the father-and-son team of Steven and Sven Gustafson were the first to bow out, after a crash and shoulder injury near the Puntilla Lake checkpoint. They were apparently well enough to return to Big Lake unassisted. Jacob Dahle and Leah Bauer stopped in Galena after one of their vehicles caught fire near that checkpoint. The other teams to scratch so far are Team 16, Joe Brady and George Schaack, Team 38, Jeff Stoll and Daniel Zimmerman, and Team 8, Chad Gueco and Cody Moen.
Image at the top: Sleds are staged in the Galena parking area for their Sunday morning departure. By Sunday evening, the front-runners had arrived in Unalakleet. Photo courtesy of Iron Dog website, used with permission 2022.