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Wet boots, a broken sled and much-needed coffee: Three Iditarod mushers pick themselves back up

SHAGELUK — The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race can knock mushers down in a lot of different ways.

Here are three of the mushers who recently got back up.

Jessie Holmes, Wade Marrs and Ed Hopkins shared their stories in the village of Shageluk, 487 miles into the 1,000-mile race.

‘Smashing into trees and falling off the trail’

Jessie Holmes answers questions during his stop at Eagle Island during the Iditarod on March 9, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Nenana musher Jessie Holmes needed coffee. On the 55-mile hilly trail into Shageluk, he said, he couldn’t stay awake.

“I was like smashing into trees and falling off the trail,” Holmes said Friday morning. “It’s not the place to be falling asleep.”

Holmes pulled over for about 30 minutes on the trail to take a nap, he said. He and his 14 dogs made it to the checkpoint here at 9:26 a.m. Friday. One of the first things he did: Grab a cup of coffee, he said.

As Holmes rotated through his cycle of tasks at the checkpoint — feed his dogs, feed himself, rest – a film crew followed him. Holmes is one of the stars of the reality television show “Life Below Zero”.

This is his second Iditarod. Last year, he placed seventh.

Holmes said he usually tries to limit how much coffee he drinks before the Iditarod, so he doesn’t depend on it. But now, it’s time for caffeine.

‘You know, it’s life’

Wade Marrs pours hot water in Shageluk during the Iditarod on March 8, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Willow musher Wade Marrs was having some sled issues.

His sled started to fall apart over the 80-mile, tussock-studded trail between Ophir and Iditarod.

“The runner snapped and then the runner hooked on a tussock and it just twisted the whole back right off of the sled,” Marrs said late Friday here as he melted snow to make food for his 11 dogs.

He stood near his mangled sled. More than half of the left runner had snapped off. He also lost his seat, which he had tried to haul down the trail by strapping it on top of his sled bag, he said.

That didn’t work very well. Every time the sled went over a big tussock, he said, it would nose dive into the ground and slam to a stop.

The sled damage set him back hours on the trail, Marrs said. He was the 11th musher to leave Ophir and the 16th to make it to the next checkpoint at Iditarod, where he took a 12-hour break.

Wade Marrs' sled is missing part of one runner in Shageluk during the Iditarod on March 8, 2019. Marrs said the part broke during his run into Iditarod. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Marrs is a six-time Iditarod finisher, placing as high as fourth. Last year, he dropped out of the race before the finish line because he got sick.

Marrs said he was trying to stay positive on Friday. A few mushers had told him that if they didn’t need their spare sleds in Unalakleet — 737 miles into the race — he could use them.

“You know, it’s life and hopefully we can figure out a way to get back up to the front a little bit before the finish line,” Marrs said.

‘All I need is a dry pair of socks’

Ed Hopkins prepares to leave Shageluk during the Iditarod on March 9, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Yukon musher Ed Hopkins got wet on the way here. Very wet.

First there was the sloppy, wet snowflakes before the previous race checkpoint of Iditarod, about 55 miles away. Then, after leaving Iditarod, his sled crashed through river ice, into about a foot of water. Then it rained.

“It seems to me like the rookie gods are picking on me here,” he said and laughed. “But that’s OK, I can fight back. I’m pretty stubborn, you know.”

This is Hopkins’ first Iditarod, but not his first 1,000-mile race. He’s a 10-time finisher of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

Saturday morning, he walked around the quiet checkpoint here with trash bags in his boots.

“All I need is as pair of dry socks,” he said, “and I’d be a happy guy.”

Ed Hopkins leaves Takotna during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on March 7, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN)
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