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In Nikolai: Billy Snodgrass, Paul Johnson, and Wattie McDonald

audio by Laureli Kinneen; photos by Ben Matheson; text by David Dodman

Billy Snodgrass

Wyoming musher Billy Snodgrass at Saturday's ceremonial start. Snodgrass is currently taking a 24-hour layover in Nikolai (as of Wednesday afternoon).

Billy Snodgrass has his “share of complaints” about Iditarod 2011 thus far. He’s dropped more dogs than he’d prefer, he’s disavowed his original goal of finishing in the top 20 – now, he just wants to finish, period – and he’s a rookie when it comes to the southern route of the Iditarod, which he’s never run before. (His previous three Iditarod races were all on the northern route.)

Snodgrass caught up with KNOM trail reporter Laureli Kinneen in Nikolai, where he shared his focus for the remainder of the race – “take care of the dogs” – his layover strategy, and a bit of “silly ingenuity” in keeping his feet warm on the trail:

Paul Johnson has also had a rough, “very challenging” run so far. The Unalakleet musher “went through all the bad stuff” in the Dalzell Gorge, early in the trail – including a minor collision with a tree – and says his dogs faced both “hot” and “punchy” conditions in their first 200 miles. Plus, he broke a bolt on his sled.

But it hasn’t been all bad. Johnson, in his interview with Laureli, praised early sections of the trail for their incredible beauty, including Finger Lake, which he says offered an incredible chance for stargazing. And he’s certainly excited to return to his hometown of Unalakleet, Alaska, which is but a few days up the trail. For now, he’s sticking to the slogan “home, then Nome”:

Wattie McDonald

Scottish musher Wattie McDonald departing Anchorage on Saturday. His national pride was on full display; his dogs wore tartan-pattered coverings, and McDonald himself wore a kilt.

Wattie McDonald didn’t expect to be here. The musher ran The Last Great Race in 2010 and vowed never to do it again, but so far, he’s glad he broke his promise, even though the trail hasn’t been perfect. There’s “just something about it (the Iditarod)” that’s brought him back to the race – all the way from Stonehaven, Scotland – and he says he’s buoyed by ample amounts of support from family and fans.

McDonald talked to KNOM’s Laureli Kinneen about his dogs, the “hard and fast” trail, and his hopes to remain competitive in Iditarod 39:

As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, Paul Johnson, Wattie McDonald, and Billy Snodgrass are in positions 34, 44, and 45, respectively. Johnson arrived in Takotna at 9:19am Wednesday morning with 14 dogs. McDonald departed Nikolai with 13 dogs at 12:30pm. Snodgrass remains in Nikolai, where he says he’s taking his 24-hour layover; he arrived there at 1:27am, early Wednesday morning, with 12 dogs.