December 18, 2018

Eye on the Trail: Wednesday Morning in McGrath

Thirty-two mushers have passed through McGrath over night. Early mushers included Mitch Seavey, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Nicolas Petit, Ryan Redington, Ray Redington Jr. and Aaron Burmeister. Seavey won the PenAir Spirit of Alaska Award.

Strategies are revealed at this point of the race. Seavey went on to Takotna for his 24-hour rest. Joar surprised everyone by taking a three-hour rest in McGrath then going through Takotna and Ophir. Looks like he’ll arrive in Iditarod first for the GCI Dorothy Page Half-way Award. Then perhaps he’ll set his snow hooks for the 24-hour required rest. While in McGrath he tended his dogs and changed runner plastic to something better suited for the mild weather. Joar said the trail was slow but none-the-less he’s happy with his run-rest plan.  

Nicolas Petit is in McGrath taking his long rest. Petit was out walking his dogs two by two around the checkpoint this morning. They obviously enjoyed the walk as they took in the sight and sound of the checkpoint. Petit is camped next to a blocked off trial in the woods. While it doesn’t have a view of the river, it’s a primo place for peach and quiet. Petit can head down the trail at 21:21. He’s had some sleep and has also enjoyed food brought to the checkpoint by community residents while his dogs are resting on plush beds of straw.

Ryan Redington is having an excellent race. His dogs looked strong coming of the river into McGrath. Ryan is wearing bib #7. He’ll have 122 minutes added to his 24-hour layover. He’ll be eligible to take the trail at 23:16. Ryan shipped a sled out to McGrath and is in the process of changing over to the lighter more agile sled.

Ray Jr spent only 4 minutes in McGrath before he turned his team to head down the riverbank and run the 18 miles to Takotna checkpoint. Takotna is a favorite location for many of the mushers. They’ve been preparing an amazing variety of pies in Takotna and every musher is offered a steak when they finish dog chores and walk into the checkpoint. Ray has probably heard many stories about Takotna from his father, Raymie, and grandfather, Joe Sr, hard to say whether nostalgia or strategic planning have him stopping in Takotna.

Aaron Burmeister has set his snowhooks in McGrath for his long layover. Aaron is also camped along the trail in the woods. His team is enjoying the quiet. Not many spectators make it back to that spot for photos or conversations with their favorite musher. Burmeister is from Nome. His father, Richard, is and Iditarod veteran. Aaron says he’s been racing and training dogs all my life. Over the past twenty years the Wild Style mushers have been focusing on breeding for an Iditarod Championship.

Three teams are parked right out front of the McGrath Community Center that acts as the checkpoint. Kristi Berington was getting ready to depart putting booties on. She says the Seeing Double Kennel has three teams on the trail. Beside Kristi, her husband – Andy Pohl and also her twin sister have See Double Dogs. Anna has the more competitive team of the three. Kristi described her trip down the Dalzell Gorge as an enjoyable segment of the trail. She ran it in the dark this year but recalled a run under a full moon a few years back. When she looked back up to the top of the mountain she’d just come over, she couldn’t even see the trail but the scene in the moonlight was really spectacular.

Andy Pohl is parked right behind Kristi. They are running almost an identical schedule. After 5 hours in McGrath, they’ll head toward Takotna. Andi is an avid biker. As a matter of fact, he met Kristi in Ophir when he was biking the Iditarod trail at the same time Kristi was racing the trail. Kristi and Andy were married this past July. Andy said his only disappointment with the trail so far was doing the gorge in the dark and only seeing what his headlamp illuminated. He has biked the gorge in past years during the daylight and knows that the beauty is spectacular.

Allen Moore came into the checkpoint at 10:24 this morning with 14 happy dogs. Moore runs the SP Kennel “B” team for Iditarod while Moore’s wife, Aliy Zirkle runs the kennel speedsters. Moore is the current Yukon Quest Champion. Moore parked the team and commenced his well practiced checkpoint routine. He put kibble out for each dog then spread straw. Moore went to work taking booties off and massaging feet, wrists and shoulders. All this time a kibble stew was steeping for when the dogs were ready for their main course.

As all of this went on, Scott Jannssen and Brett Bruggeman checked into McGrath and went on to Takotna. Noah Periera parked and began tending his dogs. Monica Zappa is now parked in front of the checkpoint.  Stay tuned for more from McGrath.