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Yukon River Racing, Some Top Iditarod Teams Yet To Take Required 8-Hour Breaks

By the middle of the day Saturday, 17 Iditarod teams had completed their 8-hour layovers at one of the four checkpoints along the Yukon River (Ruby, Galena, Nulato, and Kaltag). Not among those were race leaders Brent Sass, Jessie Royer, and Pete Kaiser.

3rd position, Thomas Waerner of Norway, was the only musher in the top four to have completed his mandatory layover by 2pm. For a recap of the top 25 mushers’ progress at this point in the race, listen to a portion of KNOM’s 2pm race update below:

As the coronavirus, COVID-19, has affected many other sporting events this week, it is also starting to have a direct impact on the mushers competing in this year’s Iditarod. When teams arrived into Galena, they were told that the logistics related to the Nulato checkpoint were changing, as well as for the Shaktoolik checkpoint. Neither community is letting Iditarod staff or mushers into their local buildings, so the official race checkpoints will be located outside of the communities instead.

Sign in Galena notifying mushers of the changes they should plan for at the Nulato checkpoint. Photo from Zach Hughes, Alaska Public Media, used with permission.
Martin Buser arrives in Nulato
Martin Buser arriving into the race checkpoint of Nulato during the 2014 Iditarod sled dog race. Photo from KNOM Radio archives.

Besides the challenges and concerns coronavirus brings to the Iditarod race, mushers now have to deal with the customary Eastern Norton Sound storm. Snowy weather pushed through Nome, Unalakleet, and into Kaltag over the course of the past 24 hours. According to climatologist Rick Thoman, this has brought fresh inches of snow, warmer temperatures, and maybe even freezing rain in some parts.

In that same vein, Thoman shared a story that sled dog musher Shirley Liss told him about her run-in with Leroy Shank during the 1982 Iditarod race. Liss’s story depicts a rainy night encounter with Shank and his dog team as Liss was camping in a tent between Nulato and Kaltag. As Shank came racing along, the rain was so bad eight miles out of Kaltag that his dog team tried to join Liss in her tent.

Although conditions are not quite that wet for this year’s Iditarod teams, the trail is certainly expected to be slower for the remaining 53 mushers as they get closer and closer to the Norton Sound coast in Unalakleet.

The frozen Yukon River, where the Iditarod trail crosses over near the checkpoint of Ruby. Photo from KNOM’s Ben Matheson, 2020.

Image at top: Iditarod musher Jessie Royer arrives in Galena. Photo from KNOM’s Ben Matheson, 2020.