Iditarod Day 4: Aliy Zirkle leaves Ophir, sets eyes on the Iditarod checkpoint

 Aliy Zirkle tends to her dogs on the trail of the 2019 Iditarod.
Aliy Zirkle tends to her dogs on the trail of the 2019 Iditarod. (KTUU)
Published: Mar. 6, 2019 at 6:49 AM AKST
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11 p.m. Update:

Musher Aliy Zirkle was the first to leave out of Ophir Wednesday morning but two mushers have since joined her on the trail to the next checkpoint.

Second place, Martin Buser left out of Ophir at 6:23 p.m. with 2018 Champion, Joar Leifseth Ulsom leaving the checkpoint at 11 p.m. to hold a third place position.

Current race standings show Ulsom and Jessie Royer are the only two mushers to have completed a required 24 hour layover.

4 p.m. Update:

Shaynee Traska, an Iditarod musher with one finish under her belt,

, race officials said.

She made the decision with 10 dogs left in her team, and in the team's best interest, according to an Iditarod release.

8:45 a.m. Update:

Musher Aliy Zirkle has taken the lead for the first time during this year's Iditarod, heading to the namesake checkpoint of Iditarod itself.

According to the Iditarod's leaderboard, she checked out of the Ophir checkpoint at 8:09 a.m. Wednesday, after a break lasting a little over 2 hours. Nic Petit, who checked into Ophir after 1 a.m. this morning, remains there.

The GPS also has Jessie Holmes and Aaron Burmeister at the Ophir checkpoint with Petit, but the official standings do not yet reflect that they have checked in.

Zirkle is just 5 miles out from the Ophir checkpoint. The space between Ophir and Iditarod is around 80 miles.

Mushers must make a 24-hour stop at a checkpoint somewhere along the trail. Mushers will typically choose to stop at McGrath, Takotna or Ophir, some will push onto Iditarod where dog teams and mushers have a better chance of finding a quiet spot to rest.

In a heavy snow year there is a risk of making that run and coming into 80 miles of soft snow and unbroken trail.

Zirkle stopped for three hours in McGrath Tuesday night to feed and water her dogs. She told Channel 2 that she was planning to push onto Ophir before heading to Iditarod.

When asked why, Zirkle said she hadn't done taken her 24 in Iditarod "for a few years" and was excited for the adventure. She said the move, which could prove decisive, had been her plan all along.

Race Marshall Mark Nordman said the 80-mile stretch of trail between Ophir and Iditarod was filled with "sugar snow," potentially slowing down teams as they head down the trail. Zirkle sounded unconcerned about the risks of soft snow saying that any sort of trail conditions would be tough in a 1,000 mile race.

In 2018, Joar Leifseth Ulsom made the same move and ran into miles of soft unbroken trail.

"I've been standing on one runner, kicking the whole freaking way. You know, it's a lot of pressure on one foot and it's like three million squats," he said.

Ulsom feared that his decision to push onto Iditarod might have cost him the race and exhausted his team. Nicolas Petit leapfrogged him and led for the majority of race before losing the trail between Shaktoolik and Koyuk. Ulsom was able to regain the lead and win his first Iditarod.

Original Story:

Early Wednesday morning, musher Nic Petit checked in to the Ophir checkpoint. Hours later, Aliy Zirkle did the same.

Wednesday marks day 4 on the Iditarod trail, with Petit at times gaining and losing the lead musher spot. He remarked on Tuesday, after Joar Leifseth Ulsom took the lead from him, that he wasn't concerned.

"The lead don't matter," said Petit. However, the French musher couldn't resist asking officials exactly how far Ulsom was behind him as he fed his dogs.

He checked into the ghost town of Ophir just after 1 a.m. on March 6. Zirkle checked in at 6 a.m., being the only other musher to do so, according to the Iditarod website.

Checking out of Takotna and on the trail headed to Ophir now are mushers Jessie Holmes and Aaron Burmeister. Others still at the Takotna checkpoint include Ulsom, Jessie Royer, Pete Kaiser, and Matt Hall.

The next stop after that will be the race's namesake checkpoint of Iditarod. Iditarod marks the official half-way point in the race on the southern trail, according to the race's website.