Fellow racers catch up at Nikolai checkpoint in Iditarod 50

Fellow racers catch up at Nikolai checkpoint in Iditarod 50
Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 9:49 AM AKST
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NIKOLAI, Alaska (KTUU) - Before the frontrunners in the 50th running of the Iditarod arrived in McGrath, they passed through the checkpoint in Nikolai, a place that returned to welcoming visitors after a hiatus in 2021.

Veteran mushers Aaron Burmeister and Jessie Holmes, two racers eyeing top spots in this year’s event, also made it a point to take a moment in the checkpoint, not just for their dog teams – whom they fed and rested – but also for themselves, as they bonded over a longtime friendship while tackling Iditarod 50.

“The update I got when I was leaving Rohn was, ‘We just walked it an hour ago, it’s dry,’” Burmeister said, with Holmes nodding in agreement, relaying info from what others had told him. “I get out there, and it’s like, knee-deep water.”

“Knee-deep,” Holmes echoed.

Fellow veteran Michelle Phillips said during her stop in Nikolai that conditions on the way in were “pretty good.”

“It was a challenging run for sure,” Phillips said. “And a lot of glare ice on the creeks, a lot of glare ice, and a lot of hard trail.”

She had trouble at one particular creek, she said, but made it work.

“Just one creek,” she said. “We ended up going in the trees and tangling up. We were there for quite a while ... I had to let all my dogs loose and them bring them across, one by one.”

Veteran Hugh Neff also said he’d had a challenging day, getting into some water a bit before Nikolai.

“I got flipped over in the drink back there,” he said. “So it’s been a long morning.”

Holmes, the 2018 Iditarod Rookie of the Year, also spoke of his team’s experience from Rohn to Nikolai, indicating it was a tough run on Tuesday.

“The part where you get out and expect the rough stuff to be over, it was really rough,” he said, “As in, moguls from Iron Dog (racers).”

Burmeister said Holmes trained on some of the same trails as him, with Holmes adding that he’s “seen (him) from the rough beginnings of a wooden toboggan.”

“I’ve enjoyed seeing his success,” Burmeister added, the 2021 runner-up who also has a fifth-place finish in 2020.

As for his run through Nikolai, Burmeister appeared confident.

“I rested a few hours more here than I ever have, in the last five years getting here,” he said. “I’m basing everything on how the dogs are feeling, and how they’re doing, and what I think is going to be best for the team.”

Every racer is on a path of their own, but all are heading down the same trail toward the burled arch in Nome.

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