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In Koyuk, Kaiser Takes Iditarod’s Lead

Man in black parka rides sled along a snowy trail

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has a new leader after Nic Petit’s team stalled on the sea ice Sunday night.

Bethel musher Pete Kaiser leads defending champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom and Jessie Royer, who all passed Petit and arrived in Koyuk Monday morning.

Davis Hovey reports from the Norton Sound coastal checkpoint:


Late Sunday night, Petit stopped short of a shelter cabin, where he planned to rest. Petit told the Iditarod Insider that two of his dogs had gotten in a tussle and he needed to yell at them. After that, his dogs didn’t want to move. He said the dogs are fine, calling it a “head thing.”

While Petit attempted to move his team on the ice, his competitors passed. Petit eventually made it to the cabin and spent several hours trying to move his team and resting, a pause that may have put him out of contention for the win. This is the second year in a row that Petit has lost the lead of the race on this run. Last year, he went off the trail outside of Koyuk, and Leifseth Ulsom took the lead.

In Koyuk this morning (Monday), Kaiser described the stretch from Shaktoolik onwards as a “marker-to-marker trail.”

“Yeah the first, I don’t know, fifteen to twenty miles out of Shaktoolik were real nice, and then it was 30 to 40 miles-per-hour snow, blowing snow, drifting right in your face for most of the way over here. So that slowed us down a lot.”

According to the local race judge in Koyuk, the re-route for teams to go overland instead of across the sea ice between Shaktoolik and Koyuk does not add many extra miles.

Front runner Kaiser announced his plans to rest for several hours upon reaching Koyuk, but those plans could change depending on the teams behind him.

“Now, we’re in the lead, so we got to try to stay in the lead. [He laughs.] So, we’ll see when these next teams come in and figure out how long we’re going to stay here.”

Last year’s Iditarod champion, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, pulled in roughly an hour behind Kaiser, despite having only left Shaktoolik about 15 minutes later. Ulsom says he’ll do his best to win the race to Nome.

“Pete has a beautiful team… and I didn’t leave very long after him from Shaktoolik, and he was here an hour or more ahead of me now. So, he’s obviously traveling a lot faster, so we’ll see. But he’s a good guy to have in front.”

During last year’s Iditarod, Leifseth Ulsom made the push from Koyuk to White Mountain in one long run, but he says that isn’t guaranteed this year.

The first finisher is expected in Nome late Tuesday evening or early Wednesday morning.

Image at top: Pete Kaiser leaves Shageluk. Photo: Ben Matheson, KNOM.

1 Comment

  1. […] After leading the race through Unalakleet, Nicolas Petit’s team stalled on the trail near Shaktoolik. In an odd echo of his team’s wrong turn in 2018 (which likely caused him the championship that year), Petit’s long break on the trail upset the top of the 2019 leaderboard. […]

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