Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Leaders blow through McGrath, Petit 24s in Nikolai

Ryan Redington waves during the Ceremonial
Start of Iditarod 51. March 4, 2023. 
Anchorage, Alaska.
McGrath was busy and then it wasn't tonight as the top nine teams are into Mcgrath and eight of those are out of the checkpoint. Only Kelly Maixner sits in McGrath right now having declared his 24 (after saying yesterday he was shooting for Takotna). Ryan Redington was first into the hub checkpoint, receiving the Spirit of Iditarod award along with a pair of beaver mitts and fur hat. The musher did not stay long in the amenity filled checkpoint and chose to continue to run twenty miles to the next checkpoint of Takotna.

Soon after Redington left, Jessie Holmes reached McGrath choosing to take a few minutes to grab some items out of his drop bag before giving chase. Diehl was hot on Holmes' heels spending almost no time in the checkpoint before continuing on down the trail. rounding out the top five were Brent Sass and Pete Kaiser who spent even less time in McGrath before continuing on. 

It's the point in the race where it's anyone's guess where the leaders will take their 24. Many expected more to stop in McGrath, but everyone save Kelly has so far blown through on their way to Takotna. Some will stay in the checkpoint known for its food (especially pies), others will continue to Ophir, and one or two may be very ambitious and run to Iditarod (breaking it up in two runs). The trail report coming into McGrath says the trail is slower than expected. That is most likely due to the trail deteriorating in the near 40 degree temps during the day melting away the packed trail and turning it into... well... mush. Not only does the sun do a number on the snow all day, it also quickly overheats working sled dogs so more breaks are needed to let them cool down. Jessie Holmes reported he took at least ten small breaks to let the dogs cool off.

While teams continue to make their way up the trail, Nicolas Petit declared his 24 in Nikolai. It's unclear if this was his plan from the get go, or if he needed the time to fix sleds or give his dogs a long rest and hope they bounce back for the rest of the race. Nic likes to go fast and fly by the seat of his pants so it's anyone's guess, but he will be coming off his rest mid-morning Wednesday and if temps remain as they have been the last couple of days he will be running in the heat of the day to catch the lead pack who will all most likely be on their 24s. If he is hoping to sling shot ahead of others he needs to hope that his team rested at the right time and recovered from their runs in the heat earlier in the week... and he has to hope that the warm days do not zap the team's energy - and that the mushy, punchy trail does not create sore muscles on his dogs.

As of 10:30pm, there are now six teams in Takotna - though Holmes and Sass are in and now out of Takotna on their way to Ophir where it is expected they will declare their 24s. Richie Diehl and Ryan Redington (who was first to Takotna) chose to stay and it's unsure if they declared. Pete Kaiser came in just moments ago and his team did not want to stop with many still banging against their harness and barking up a storm - Bruce Lee of Iditarod Insider mentioned that his team looked as strong and beautiful as they did in Anchorage. Huge praise for the 2019 Iditarod Champion's team. Kaiser likes to 24 in Takotna and it was predicted he would do so again this year. Matt Failor just pulled into Takotna and it looks like he will stay for a spell.

Tonight and into tomorrow is all about teams making it to the checkpoint they plan to reset and recharge on their 24. Remember, this is also where they will equalize their time differentials, so Pete Kaiser in the front of the pack needs to rest only two extra minutes during his 24 and will be able to slingshot over many of the teams that are currently out ahead of him. Petit is the biggest unknown at this point to figure out just how he stands against the teams in Takotna. We'll see him take off sometime after 8am on Wednesday and that should be a good tell as to how this next part of the race will go for Nic.

Enjoy the evening, folks, this is where the Iditamath begins. 

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