That was an interesting night of racing. I woke up expecting to have the first teams in Nikolai and the rest spread over 50 miles. Instead we have 25 teams in a big line, and it’ll be at least an hour before anyone makes it to Nikolai. After 2 days of hard racing, most made conservative rest breaks between Rohn and Nikolai. I don’t see any teams planning to run the 81 miles nonstop, and no one is really positioned to skip that checkpoint. We’ve got us a dog race!  

Instead, Nikolai – where it’s currently 30 degrees below zero – will see 15-25 teams in the first 3 hours, double the number we saw last year. All the different schedules will mostly align, and I expect most of the teams to camp for at least a few hours. We should have a much clearer picture from that point on.  

Today is all about where teams chose to take their 24 hour break. McGrath is the first place teams plan to take it – it can be taken earlier, but front teams don’t plan on it unless something goes wrong. We’ll likely see:

  • Some teams go through Nikolai quickly and take the 24 in McGrath.
  • More will stay in Nikolai then run non-stop to Takotna to 24. Takotna is the favorite place to rest, because it has pie.
  • Less will do short stops in Nikolai and McGrath and 24 in Ophir.
  • Others will continue to Cripple

Most teams want to go as far as they can before taking the 24. The deciding factors are a) weather – temps and trail conditions can make stopping earlier or later advantageous, and b) how the dog team is performing. There have been very few dogs sent home so far, which is an indication the trail has been easy, and mushers will be more confident.

There have been no scratches so far, everyone’s still moving. Quince Mountain is in last by a few hours, but he literally just stopped for the night – 10 pm to 8 am – beside the trail. That rest, while nerve wracking for fans, will usually pay dividends later. Sleep deprivation is the hardest part of the Iditarod, day 3 is always the worst. Day 1 and 2 are run on adrenalin, and on generally ‘normal’ brain function, and then you crash on day 3. Then there’s a 24 hour break to recover, and mushers somehow continue, but in semi-zombie mode the rest of the way. They get progressively tired-er, but the expectations change. On day 3 you’re comparing how tired you feel to a normal day at home, it’s bad. On day 7 you’re just staring off into space hallucinating about aliens, and your comparing it to day six, where it was much the same, but you were hallucinating about zombies, so it may have actually improved.

That was the long way of saying don’t worry about Q’s stop, he’s now the only musher with anywhere close to 100% brain function remaining. I’d expect him to leave Rainy Pass with the rest of the back of the pack.