Thomas Waerner prepares to leaves for the run from White Mountain to Nome

Iditarod mushers are closing in on Nome. Norwegian Thomas Waerner was the first to leave White Mountain at 1:35 Tuesday afternoon when he pulled the snowhook and set off on the final 77 miles to Nome.

As fresh snow fell on his sleeping team, he completed his mandatory eight-hour break. Waerner now has a generous five-hour edge over Mitch Seavey for the final miles to the finish line. 

Thomas Waerner hugs Brent Sass in White Mountain. Photo: Ben Matheson.
Thomas Waerner hugs Brent Sass in White Mountain. Photo: Ben Matheson.

Waerner is hours from his first Iditarod victory after a quiet arrival at the checkpoint early Tuesday morning, where, thanks to a glitchy GPS tracker, no checkers or camera crews were at the river to greet him. 

“It’s just to go steady over, I have a lot of time now so I can go just slow, easy going for the dogs.” 

Waerner has only ran the race once, in 2015, in which he earned Rookie of the Year honors. Ever since a marathon 12-hour run from Kaltag to Unalakleet, Waerner has been in control of the race, running 20 or more miles in front of his nearest competitors. 

“If you want to win, you have to try something. You cannot just stay steady and just be wandering around,  it will just be fighting for minutes. This time I wanted to get get a gap and try to keep it.”

Anything can happen on the unpredictable Bering Sea coast, and race leaders in the past have lost their race in the final miles. Behind leaders K2 and Bark, Waerner is running on a windy trail with fresh snow. To secure the victory, Warner has a simple approach for a clean run to Nome:

“It’s easy, stay on the trail, don’t go on the wrong trail, that’s the only thing.”

Mitch Seavey, Jessie Royer, Brent Sass, and Aaron Burmeister round out the first five to White Mountain. The winner is expected to arrive in Nome overnight.

Image at top: Thomas Waerner prepares to leaves for the run from White Mountain to Nome. Photo: Ben Matheson, KNOM.