A small crowd gathered next to burning logs and a large welcome banner as Mitch Seavey arrived first to Takotna checkpoint in a light snow Tuesday night.
Seavey was in a good mood and unusually talkative as he declared his 24 hour rest. He frequently uses Takotna for his 24, and parked his team in a preferred spot tucked just behind the community center.
Seavey is well positioned in this year’s race, though it’s still early, with mushers’ long-term strategies becoming clearer. But Seavey has had to adjust his plans in order to contend with all the fresh snow making for a slower trail. A few checkpoints earlier in Nikolai, he switched over to a runner plastic that is extra wide at the front of the sled, which helps float the weight and keep the runners from punching through. He’s also had to scrap his technique of carrying dogs inside his sled, rotating them between runs and rest — a style of mushing he’s helped refine in recent year.
“It’s too slow and soft this year. Well, it worked at first, I used it for a while. But I gave up on it because they were working too hard. I hurt two dogs’ back legs, I think, because of it.”
Even though some of Seavey’s runs between checkpoints were slower than in past years, the cumulative effect has been slight. He pulled into Takotna at 9:45pm. In 2013, the last time Seavey won the race along the southern route, he arrived in Takotna at 9:45pm. The exact same time.
UPDATE (9am Wednesday): According to official race standings, Joar Leifseth Ulsom has pushed on from Takotna and leads the pack, having checked out of Ophir this morning at 4:52. Hugh Neff and Ketil Reitan have also left Takotna this morning.
Image at top: a sign near the Takotna checkpoint. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media.