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Top five Iditarod mushers into McGrath say they’ll declare their 24-hour layovers there

Warm, comfortable and with access to electricity, all of the top five mushers into the McGrath...
Warm, comfortable and with access to electricity, all of the top five mushers into the McGrath checkpoint declared their 24-hour layovers there.(KTUU)
Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 6:44 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Under the afternoon sun in McGrath, Dallas Seavey split frozen slices of beef, getting ready to feed his 14 dogs.

The four-time champion spoke to Mark Nordman, the race marshal of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Nordman told Seavey that Aliy Zirkle had scratched after suffering an injury that sent her to the hospital coming into the Rohn checkpoint.

Seavey hadn’t heard that and was sad for Zirkle. “Man, that lady deserves some breaks,” he said.

The two mushers have had some epic battles to Nome. In 2014, Seavey passed Zirkle at the Safety checkpoint and found himself crossing under the Burled Arch in first place without knowing he’d won the Iditarod.

He felt sad to hear that Zirkle, who is set to retire from sled dog racing, had ended her storied Iditarod career injured and unable to finish her last race.

“I was really looking forward to being out here with her, having one last race,” Seavey said. “But you never know, maybe we’ll end up racing sailboats against each other, or something, in our second life.”

Standing on top of a 15-foot high snow berm, spectators looked out over the Kuskokwim River. In normal years, dozens of people would wait for the first musher to arrive into McGrath and surround them as they checked in.

That wasn’t possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, but spectators were still out to cheer the mushers on.

“This has become a very special time of year, every year for me growing up,” said Noel Peirce as she stood on top of the berm.

There have been other differences during the pandemic, too.

As Seavey pulled into McGrath at 4 p.m. with all 14 dogs, he got a mandatory COVID-19 test. That meant an uncomfortable nasal swab and a rapid test that came back negative.

All of the top five into McGrath also tested negative for the virus, said Dr. Jodie Guest, the Iditarod’s COVID czar.

Some mushers reported hazardous glare ice outside Rohn and were concerned about the journey back over the Alaska Range.

Joar Leifeth Ulsom, a Willow-based musher from Norway, said there were some “sketchy” stretches, but his dogs arrived into McGrath looking good. Running over the glare ice, Seavey took booties off his first four dogs as means to keep them traveling under 10 miles per hour.

Mille Porsild, the 2020 rookie of the year, arrived at night. She said the Farewell Burn was “absolutely insane.”

“It’s bare dirt, rocks, just a bit of ice,” she added.

After the glare ice, there was deep snow and overflow on the Kuskokwim River.

“Nothing you don’t expect on the Iditarod,” said Brent Sass before he headed on to camp around 15 miles down the trail from McGrath. Sass said he planned to take his mandatory 24-hour layover at the Iditarod checkpoint, if his team continued looking good.

Warm, comfortable and with access to electricity, all of the top five mushers into the McGrath checkpoint said they were going to declare their 24-hour layovers there.

“The dogs are ready for a break now, and so am I,“ said Travis Beals, a Seward-based musher, while smiling.

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