Mushers express relief, excitement over Iditarod’s continuation amid pandemic

Rookie musher Chad Stoddard awaits takeoff at the start of the 2021 Iditarod in Deshka Landing,...
Rookie musher Chad Stoddard awaits takeoff at the start of the 2021 Iditarod in Deshka Landing, Alaska, on March 7, 2021.(KTUU)
Published: Mar. 7, 2021 at 2:56 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival in Alaska was evident during the 2020 Iditarod, with changes unfolding throughout the race: despite a relatively normal ceremonial start in Anchorage and restart in Willow the next day, checkpoints changed as the race went on, mushers scratched citing concerns over the pandemic, stops in remote villages were altered, big events were canceled and the plan for the race in 2021 was a huge unknown.

As the 49th running of the race approached, however, the Iditarod’s organizers had prepared several different contingency plans, including an altered start and new route for teams. No matter the changes, participating mushers were all excited to hit the trail, expressing relief ahead of the official start on Sunday.

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“I’m just happy,” said 2019 Iditarod Champion Pete Kaiser of Bethel. “I think we’re blessed to be able to have a race, because there was a very good chance this could’ve not happened.”

Kaiser said he missed seeing all the usual visitors downtown for the annual ceremonial start, but that he hopes to see the many supporters and spectators there next year.

“I’m happy they were able to pull this off,” he said. “No easy task, for sure. Plenty of volunteering and hours spent and time spent by countless people to make this happen, and I’m just really appreciative.”

Veteran twins Kristy and Anna Berington said Sunday that they, too, are just happy to be a part of the Iditarod this year.

“I’m happy that there’s a race,” Kristy said ahead of her departure Sunday afternoon. “It’s different. I’m glad to be a part of a historical event like this.”

“Super excited,” Anna added. “It’ll be fun; something different. And, like Kristy said, we have race.”

Since 2010, the twins have finished a combined 18 Iditarods. Kristy’s highest finish was 16th in 2019, with Anna’s highest being 17th place the same year.

Rookie racers spoke with enthusiasm Sunday as well, thrilled about the race being put on at all and looking forward to what lies ahead on the trail, despite it being an out-and-back loop instead of the usual trek to Nome.

“I’m feeling really excited,” said Chad Stoddard, an Iditarod rookie out of Anchorage. “It’s been a long time to get to this point, and now it’s time to just have some fun. I’m just excited to hit the trail.

“I have a feeling I’ll be back,” he added, “So someday, I’ll get to run up the Yukon. I’m happy Iditarod is able to put on a safe event – I look at it as a unique opportunity to do something that’s never been done before.”

RELATED: Iditarod unveils Gold Trail Loop for the 2021 race

Fellow rookie Joanna Jagow, of Fairbanks, said she’s happy to be able to run this year even if things are much different than usual.

“I’m nervous, but I’m excited to get on the trail,” she said. “It’s pretty awesome we can still have this event this year, and I suppose this trail will kind of be new for everyone.”

This year’s Iditarod follows the Gold Trail Loop, a dedicated route implemented specifically for the 2021 race. The trail starts in Deshka Landing and follows a large section of the Iditarod’s southern route up to the abandoned village of Iditarod, before making a small loop around Flat and taking the same path back to Deshka Landing.

Follow along with Alaska’s News Source throughout the duration of Iditarod 49 on this live blog.

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