Teams decide between rest and rolling through Nikolai

Some chose to take a break a bit past the checkpoint, on the way to McGrath
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 8:42 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In Iditarod 51, teams are on their ways to and through a checkpoint marking nearly a third of the race being completed.

Before reaching McGrath, however, mushers and their dogs moved through multiple stops, including Nikolai.

Running into Nikolai, and tackling some of the challenging, technical trail on the way in, such as the Farewell Burn after departing Rohn, is an adventure; what kind of adventure depends on whom you ask.

For Aniak’s Richie Diehl, the run from Rohn – an 80-mile-or-so stretch – was one of the best he’s ever had.

“I’ve run 11 Iditarods,” Diehl said, “but I think I’ve done that nine times. I think that was the best Rohn-to-Nikolai trail I’ve ever seen.”

Fellow veteran Mille Porsild, who trains out of Willow, saw different conditions running through the Burn. One of her three lead dogs, Ragnar, rode into Nikolai on Porsild’s sled before being scratched at the checkpoint.

“He ran Quest with me, screaming (fast) at the finish line,” Porsild said. “A phenomenal dog… (but) had a swelling, and it’s getting bigger fast, so he needs to go home.”

Following Nic Petit’s arrival to the checkpoint around 6:30 Tuesday morning, many mushers chose to take a rest in the village, with the dog lot getting brighter, busier and louder as the day went on.

Pete Kaiser, the 2019 Iditarod Champion, said there were some rough spots, as expected.

“There were some moguls, bumps,” Kaiser said late Tuesday morning, “but the earlier part of the trail closer to Rohn was quite good.”

Arriving a bit after Kaiser was veteran Matt Failor. The route “could always be better, could always be worse,” he said.

As the race continues, the Nikolai checkpoint will soon be quiet once again, with mushers and their dogs continuing the long trek toward Nome. For now, though, teams are still rolling through on the way to McGrath, a route known to cross lakes and swamps and running down Big River before moving on to the Kuskokwim and along into the edge of town.

As of this writing, 24 teams had checked into Nikolai, with at least 17 of them having already checked out. McGrath, the next checkpoint for racers, sits near mile 311 on the Iditarod Trail, and is a popular spot for mushers to take their 24-hour rest, though the vast majority who checked in by Tuesday evening chose to keep moving down the trail.