Working for a Rest

It has been a very busy day at Nikolai. Mushers have been arriving one after another since the early morning. The first musher to make it into the checkpoint was 2018 Iditarod Champion, Joar Leifseth Ulsom. He arrived around 6:30 A.M. After a couple of hours, it felt like a musher was arriving every 15-20 minutes.

Although all the mushers have their own routines and plans, for the mushers who decided to take a break, it was apparent that the same things got done.

When the mushers arrive to a checkpoint, a race checker welcomes them and records their entering time. After the number of dogs has been counted and verified, mushers are required to sign in. If mushers decide that they are staying at that checkpoint, they are led to a designated place to stage and park their team. Most mushers who arrived in Nikolai decided to take a break.

Charley Bejna signing into Nikolai

One of the first things the mushers do, after having their bags checked for mandatory gear, is lay out straw for every dog. The dogs happily get comfortable and curl up into a warm ball. The mushers typically walk around and remove the booties from each dog.

While all of this is going on, the vets check every dog to ensure that they are healthy and happy. You’ll also see them review the vet notebooks and record their observations. Mushers need to sign the vet book after the examinations are completed.

snacking on bacon while the vets do their job

Mushers open their drop bags and begin preparing food for the dogs. Luckily, volunteers from Nikolai consistently stoked a fire and kept water boiling for all the mushers to use. After the dogs have been fed, you’ll often see the mushers organize their sled bags.

At this point, the work for the mushers is still is not done! Mushers massage the feet and paws of the dogs, and then they apply ointment on the dogs’ paws. Many mushers also will put jackets or blankets on the dogs to keep them warm while they sleep.

After completing all these tasks, the dogs are left alone to sleep and rest-up. It is at that point that mushers finally take the opportunity to eat their own meals and take a quick nap. Sleeping areas will vary at each checkpoint. At Nikolai, mushers are invited to eat and sleep at the school in the village.

Before mushers make their way back on the trail, they’ll bootie their dogs’ feet and many mushers will also feed their dogs another meal or snack.

For people who are unfamiliar with the race, when they see that mushers rest and take a break for several hours, they often overlook the fact that the mushers spend a significant amount of that time caring for their dogs and making sure they are fed and rested. Having the opportunity to witness the mushers at the checkpoint further affirms how demanding being a musher is.

***Teachers*** Have your students practice sequencing and using transitional words/phrases by writing an informational piece describing the things mushers do at a checkpoint.