Lead pack moves through Iditarod checkpoint, reaching halfway point of race

Lead pack moves through Iditarod checkpoint, reaching halfway point of race
Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 11:52 PM AKST
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IDITAROD, Alaska (KTUU) - With a lead pack forming in this year’s edition of the Iditarod, the ghost town checkpoint of Iditarod welcomed some of the front teams on Thursday.

The race’s southern route boasts more than 20 official checkpoints, but only one is a namesake stop, and takes teams through Iditarod, a once-busy town that at one point had a population of more than 10,000 people.

Veteran musher Wade Marrs was the first to arrive, declaring his 24-hour rest in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Second into the checkpoint, whistling merrily on his way in, was 2022 Iditarod champion Brent Sass.

“I have only run the southern route once, and that was back in 2013,” Sass said. “It’s going to be brand new country. We were here two years ago with the Gold Trail Loop. So, yeah, it’s going to be exciting.”

However, another lead change came soon after Sass’ arrival in the form of veteran musher Jessie Holmes, who was third to get to the race’s halfway point. After only a few minutes to check in and gather a few provisions, Holmes was then first to leave.

As for Marrs, he must wait until early Friday if he is to complete his 24-hour rest before departing.

“My plan was to come here all along,” Marrs said. “We’re on Plan A.”

Sass, who would become the second to depart Iditarod later Thursday afternoon, took a few hours’ rest inside the checkpoint.

“Nothing about this race is on schedule for me,” he said. “But it’s on my fifth plan.”

Richie Diehl rests for a moment to talk about his race pace and what others are doing Thursday afternoon in the checkpoint of Iditarod.

Fellow front-pack racers Richie Diehl, Ryan Redington and 2019 Iditarod champion Pete Kaiser also rested in the checkpoint for several hours before heading out toward their next stops.

“I mean, definitely a lot more competition right now,” Diehl said. “which makes it a lot more fun, too.”

Redington said he’s thrilled with his team thus far and is looking forward to continuing on toward Nome.

“The way my dogs look now,” he said. “I’m excited for the next three days.”

Many racers have taken their required 24-hour rests within the last couple of days. Energy, though, is a hot commodity that isn’t always easily restored.

“You’re energized, and then the first night after, you’re tired again,” Kaiser said during his stop in Iditarod. “But we’re not here to sleep; we’re here to race.”

Nic Petit, who returns to the Iditarod after having to sit it out due to illness last year, also arrived early Thursday afternoon, stopping inside the checkpoint for a break before the long, hilly route to Shageluk.