As the day turns into evening in McGrath, I’ve had a chance to talk with a couple mushers as they’ve arrived from Nikolai. Many, many more have come into the checkpoint today that I haven’t chatted with but hope to do so tomorrow while before they depart. Teams who came in on Tuesday evening and declared their 24-hour rest are due to head out in the near future. Wade Marrs will leave at 2036 and Travis Beals will depart at 2323. Hugh Neff who did his long layover in Nikolai rested here for 2.5 hours and is already back on the trail. As teams finish their 24-hour layover the picture of who’s in the lead will become much clearer. After the start differential is served, all teams are running on an equal clock.
Rob Cooke brought his Yukon Quest veterans into the checkpoint. Cooke is doing the distance double with his Siberians again this year as he did in 2015. Rob’s huskies looked very chipper as the trotted across the river, up the bank and into the checkpoint. Well, chipper might be an understatement, excellent would even be an understatement. They finished Quest on February 18th and began Iditarod on March 6th. Sled dogs are amazing athletes, the more they run, the better they get. More than one musher has found the advantage that running Quest then Iditarod has given the dogs.
Rob was very happy with the performance of his team. Cooke Started Iditarod with 15 dogs. He smiled big time when he mentioned that all 15 of his starters were happy and strong at mile 311. The dogs have the camping routine down. Booties off, straw down and wait for Rob to cook us dinner. When the gourmet meal was dished out, the huskies were on their feet eating ravenously.
While his Siberians looked excellent, Rob’s coat looked a bit ragged. The story was that he re-lit his cooker and it flared up. His down sweater caught fire. He didn’t stop, drop and roll but scooped hands full of snow up to extinguish the little blaze. A spark also fell on his outer coat. There’s a hole the size of a softball spilling feathers in that coat. Nothing that duct tape won’t fix.
Iditarod’s 19 year old rookie sensation, Noah Pereira came in during the photographer’s blue hour, a pretty cool light phenomenon that gives everything a blue tint. Noah was greeted by several fans on the river road inn who exchanged high fives. When he set his hook to sign in he signed autographs for several children then signed himself into the checkpoint. He flat out said the run from Nikolai to McGrath was the sweetest segment of the trail so far.
Noah is the Jr. Iditarod Champion from 2013. He was the first non Alaskan to win that race. Noah was raised in Brockport, New York. He met local mushers and began mushing. He came to Alaska during the winters ’13, ’14 and 15 with his dad to learn more about the sport and complete qualifiers for the Iditarod.
For his rookie Iditarod, he’s running some of his own dogs and some younger dogs from mentor Wade Marrs‘ kennel. His goal is to finish with a healthy happy dog team. He’s looking very good at mile 311.
When asked about the technical sections of the trail, he called them wild. He mentioned that if this was a good year for those sections of the trail, he’d hate to see them in a bad year. Having heard that many mushers got wet on the way to Nikolai, I asked how those water crossing went. Noah, just laughed and said, “I brought chest waders. I stayed dry.” Packing everything but the kitchen sink was definitely in Noah’s favor.