Leaders blow through McGrath checkpoint in Iditarod 51 as race starts heating up

Leaders blow through McGrath
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 11:09 PM AKST
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MCGRATH, Alaska (KTUU) - Three-hundred and eleven miles into this year’s edition of the Iditarod, the race itself is really stating to pick up, as mushers carefully choose when to rest and when to run.

The front of the pack arriving to the McGrath checkpoint was a bit hectic, as teams chose one by one whether to stay or go, with the top few teams quickly moving through the checkpoint and on to Takotna.

Veteran Ryan Redington was the first to the McGrath checkpoint Tuesday and won the Alaska Air Transit Spirit of Iditarod Award, which comes with handmade beaver mittens created by a resident of McGrath.

Not far behind Redington was fellow veteran Jessie Holmes, who is looking to improve on his third-place finish from a year ago. Holmes seemed to have a similar plan to Redington: fly through the checkpoint, and take a longer rest later.

The Kusko Kid Richie Diehl was next, and – after signing a bunch of autographs and taking pictures with fans – signed his vet book and took off as well.

One of two Iditarod champions in the race, Brent Sass, who took his first Iditarod win last year, also blew through McGrath. While it isn’t abnormal to see him run through checkpoints, as that is usually his strategy, he and his dogs were on the chase leaving McGrath, and he seemed to hustle out as quickly as he could.

Longtime Iditarod Race Marshal Mark Nordman also spoke from McGrath about how he feels the race is going so far. He said things may be going too smoothly for comfort, given that the trail is full of twists and turns.

“It’s kind of scary,” he laughed.

Nordman said that he had been a little bit concerned about some of the weather conditions forecasted up the trail, but he said his trail breakers are up there, and he isn’t feeling worried at this point.

As more and more teams make it to McGrath, the true strategies for this year’s Iditarod will start to show, as mushers and their dogs race up the Yukon before hitting the coast and hopefully crossing under the Burled Arch in Nome.