Surprises, uncertainty and trash bags for shoes at Ophir checkpoint

Group has closed in on Ophir; some have headed off to Iditarod checkpoint
Mushers sit in the sun at the Ophir checkpoint during Iditarod 49. March 10, 2021.
Mushers sit in the sun at the Ophir checkpoint during Iditarod 49. March 10, 2021.(KTUU)
Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 11:23 PM AKST
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OPHIR, Alaska (KTUU) - There was a surprise for mushers at the Ophir checkpoint Wednesday, but for some, that surprise was a nice one.

Veteran musher Paige Drobny had expected to be mushing ahead of husband Cody Strathe, but some of her dogs had felt a little sick earlier in the race and slowed down. Now, she said, the dogs feel better, and during their 24-hour layovers, Drobney and Strathe – who live together off the Denali Highway – could share a tent and look after each other’s dogs.

“It’s great. It makes me a lot happier to be here with him,” Drobny said.

Ryne Olson, a veteran musher based out of Two Rivers, had a less welcome surprise. Driving her team out of McGrath, she ran into overflow. With that, Olson trod into a pool of mushy, semi-frozen water that went up to her knees and soaked her one pair of boots that she brought for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

“It was fine, because it was zero or ten above,” she said while wearing trash bags for shoes.

Adaption to the imperfect and readying for the broken are expected.

“I don’t know if it’s improvising as much as rolling with the punches, because it’s never going to be smooth,” Olson said. “There’s always going to be something that breaks or something that slows you down.”

For Jessie Holmes, feeling disappointment has been happening a lot recently.

“So, I keep getting to places and being like, ‘Shoot, darn, I sure wish I had that here,’” he said.

Holmes, who lives in Brushkana, is talking about coffee. He thought he packed it in the bags he sent to Ophir, he said, but it wasn’t there. He says he spent a lot more time packing supplies for dogs and in the chaos, forgot about himself.

At later checkpoints, there should be more treats, like coffee, in those bags.

“Which is kind of strategical,” Holmes said.

For the mushers sitting at Ophir, a long-abandoned village, about 500 miles of trail remain to be traveled. Olson simply hopes to be competitive.

“I took a little more rest early on, but we’re not even halfway yet. Who knows? I might be taking more rest later on,” she said with a chuckle.

The run back from the ghost town of Iditarod across the Alaska Range has worried some mushers. The long, 80-mile run to Iditarod is a more pressing concern.

“It’s the uncertainty of the unknown,” Holmes said. “We don’t know hard this trail is going to be. You know, the wind is blowing down here, and there’s a lot of snow down there. So, it could be some rough going in that open country.”

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