24 hours in McGrath: Many mushers take required layover at popular checkpoint

The McGrath checkpoint, officially 311 miles into the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, is often where mushers will take their required 24-hour layover.
Published: Mar. 10, 2022 at 10:02 PM AKST
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MCGRATH, Alaska (KTUU) - The McGrath checkpoint, officially 311 miles into the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, is often where mushers will take their required 24-hour layover where they, and the dogs, are essentially doing one of two things.

“I eat and then I sleep and then we do it all over again, and again, and again,” said Bridgett Watkins, who is competing in her first Iditarod. “We planned on 24-ing in McGrath because it is the quote unquote ‘easiest place.’ The accommodations here are wonderful. We’re, I don’t know, 300 miles into the race now and they’re ready for a break. They weren’t too tired getting to this point and so we just wanted to keep — my team, we just wanted to keep them happy and healthy and on the positive side of things, and this seemed like the perfect place.”

Mushers typically strategize where they will take their 24-hour rest along the trail, though sometimes that decision is made upon arriving in a checkpoint after evaluating the dogs and themselves. Aaron Burmeister was the first musher into the McGrath checkpoint Tuesday where he decided to take his 24 hours. Other competitive mushers such as Brent Sass and Dallas Seavey kept it moving all the way to Cripple before taking theirs.

After several days and hundreds of miles down, it is time to recharge and refocus.

“Here, you do a reset,” Rookie Sebastien Dos Santos Borges of France said. “It is a reset for the body but it’s a reset too for the spirit.”

Sean Williams is also experiencing his first 24-hour layover, breaking his time up into eight hour chunks. Most of it was spent eating and sleeping of course, but race decisions going forward are also made at this time.

“First one, I was feeding them and still all amped up so I slept about two hours. The second one I slept almost the whole time after feeding them,” he said. “And then we’re into the third one here and I decided to change sleds because it snowed so much. I was sitting here for — you probably saw me go back and forth 10 times trying to decide.”

But after a stagnant 24 hours, both the mushers and the dogs are ready to hit the trail.

“I would like to leave you know ... it was very nice to arrive in McGrath, but you know it’s nice to arrive in a checkpoint, but it’s nice to leave,” Dos Santos Borges said with a smile a few hours before his layover was complete.

It is a necessary reset, as there are still nearly 700 miles of the Iditarod Trail still to go. All teams remaining have arrived in McGrath, with Yuka Honda, Lisbet Norris and Kailyn Davis scheduled to leave prior just prior to noon, respectively.

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