It’s break time on the Iditarod trail, as teams hunker down for 24 hours of uninterrupted rest along the Yukon River or consider pushing down the trail to a later checkpoint. As the race approaches the halfway point mushers try to plan how to get the most from their tactical breaks.
Iditarod veteran Aliy Zirkle has had to upend her race plans and declare a 24-hour rest in Galena because of sick dogs. After pulling off the Yukon River, Zirkle had several vets checking out her team. She said the leaders started looking ill Tuesday afternoon.
As mushers speed toward Nome, a controversial new Iditarod rule is in effect for the first time. After a vote by the board of directors last fall, mushers are now allowed to carry two-way communication devices, like cell and satellite phones. Many competitors both young and old think the presence of technology goes against the spirit of the race.
Iditarod mushers reached the Yukon River at Tanana on Tuesday night. Teams are ready to launch their race plans as the eight-hour and 24-hour rest periods come into view. But first, they must run the longest stretch of the race between checkpoints and make it through the early race with their teams intact.
Last year, Martin Buser had a tough Iditarod. He finished in 37th place, his lowest position on the leader-board in a decades-long career. But this year, as the four-time champion charges through the race’s early checkpoints, a lot of things are going better.
During the first night of this year’s Iditarod, teams endured frigid temperatures on the Tanana River to reach the second checkpoint of Manley Hot Springs. Teams are adjusting to the deep cold and preparing to push to the Yukon River, where the race will unfold.
The Iditarod trail won’t be full of just mushers: a teacher will be following along as part of a yearly program. For two years, Annie Kelley, of St. Andrew’s School in Chicago has been preparing for a new type of lesson plan.
Mushers are on the rivers heading out of Fairbanks right now, as the 45th Iditarod starts in earnest. This is the second time in three races that the restart has been in Fairbanks. And a lot of the mushers have vivid memories of the 2015 race, so this year, they’re trying to pack accordingly.