NIKOLAI — Fairbanks musher Cody Strathe used an ax to chip a layer of ice from his sled runners here Tuesday evening. It was 32 degrees. He didn't wear gloves.
Nearly all of the mushers out in the dog lot worked with their hands bare as snow fell.
"Sled dogs typically don't like these temperatures," Strathe said. "They're doing OK but it's hard for them. I'm trying to run more at night and take long rests during the day."
For a March evening in the Interior Alaska village of Nikolai, Tuesday was warm.
"It's too warm," Norwegian musher Lars Monsen said as he velcroed booties to his dogs' feet. "We were hoping for colder weather."
Monsen and other middle-of-the-pack mushers resting their teams here, 263 miles into the 1,000-mile race to Nome, said the trail started out hard and fast from Rohn, the previous checkpoint, and then it got slow and snowy with pockets of swampy terrain.
Several mushers said they found themselves at least knee-deep in water.
"It was really punchy, a lot of overflow," said Larry Daugherty of Eagle River, who pulled into Nikolai at 4:57 p.m. "I literally got waist-deep in water."
"We're pretty saturated," said Strathe, who arrived about three hours earlier.
Matthew Failor of Willow said his lead dogs, Pink Floyd and Superfly, managed to direct the other 14 canines through the open water without much trouble.
"They definitely like to swim," he said, sitting near his sled, gloveless and eating a taquito.
Failor said he had yet to put on his parka or get out his sleeping bag, instead laying in the straw with his dogs when they camped outside of checkpoints.
Four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King, who stopped in Nikolai for about five hours, said he had yet to put on his mittens. Too warm.
"I managed to just get wet on the surface," he said of his trip into the village. "I've got stuff dried out since I've been here."
By Tuesday evening, the front-runners had already come and gone from Nikolai, a village of about 90 people. Snow fell. Dogs curled up in straw. The school, which has about 13 students, served mushers spaghetti with moose meat.
Outside, Scott Janssen of Anchorage pulled the booties off of his resting dog team. Michi Konno of Willow prepared to head to the next checkpoint in McGrath, about 48 miles away. A circular thermometer attached to his sled read 0 degrees Celsius.
Like Strathe, Nenana musher Jessie Holmes hacked ice from his sled runners with an ax. It's his first Iditarod, and he said the challenge of racing 1,000 miles is starting to hit him.
"I'm starting to realize how long of a way it is," he said. "We ain't even to the finish line of a 300-mile race and then there's two more to go."