Four full days since Iditarod teams left Willow Lake on their way to Nome, nearly all of them were done with their mandatory 24-hour rests and positioned for a highly competitive second half of the race.
Early Thursday morning, Wade Marrs was the first musher to arrive at the ghost town of Iditarod, which sits roughly at the route’s halfway point. He declared he’d be taking his long rest there — the only competitor to push that far up the trail to take the required daylong layover.
By midday, teams that had taken their 24s farther back in the Ophir and Takotna checkpoints started arriving in Iditarod too, along with Big Lake musher Nicolas Petit, who made the unconventional decision to take his 24-hour pause all the way back in Nikolai.
[As Iditarod mushers hunker down for 24-hour rests, warm weather is melting strategies and plans]
Brushkana musher Jessie Holmes, who has been dueling with defending champion Brent Sass of Eureka in the front of the pack, blew through the Iditarod checkpoint after heading all the way there from Ophir 80 miles away, stopping for a little more than three hours along the way. Sass paused for two hours on that same run but then stayed in Iditarod for just shy of four hours, leaving just before 4:30 p.m.
Also stopped in Iditarod on Thursday afternoon was an aggressive chase pack who will soon be gunning to overtake Sass and Holmes, either by running slightly faster on runs or by eating into rest and pushing a little longer between stops.
That group includes 2019 winner Pete Kaiser of Bethel, Richie Diehl of Aniak, Petit, Ryan Redington from Knik and Willow musher Matthew Failor. Sprinkled in the mix are two rookies, Eddie Burke Jr. from Anchorage and Hunter Keefe of Knik, both of whom have been keeping up with the seasoned Iditarod competitors in the first half of the race.
Only one musher, Healy rookie Jennifer LaBar, had scratched — a relative rarity this many days into the Iditarod. And though the field is beginning to stretch out farther from the front and end of the pack, the most distant musher, rookie Gregg Vitello, was approaching the end of his 24-hour rest in McGrath on Thursday afternoon.
[Meet the Vitellos: First father-son rookie pair aim to fulfill a generational dream in this year’s Iditarod]
Mushers next head to the Yukon River communities of Shageluk, Anvik and Grayling, where conditions are forecast to be cooler than they were for the first few days of the race, with highs projected to be in the 20s under sunny skies, and overnight lows just below zero.