The leader board may have the top ten mushers near Ophir and Takotna, but Wednesday morning is the time when early frontrunners once again hit the trail fresh from their 24 hours of rest.
Race leaders were taking short rests in burst of four or five hours in McGrath, Takotna, and Ophir late Tuesday and early Wednesday. Other top contenders were parking down to begin longer rests, possibly beginning their 24-hour layovers.
Sonny Lindner was still in the lead out of Ophir at 3 a.m. sharp Wednesday morning, having last taken about five hours of rest in McGrath. Nome’s Aaron Burmeister was nearly two hours behind, also fresh from five and a half hours rest in Takotna. Kasilof’s Paul Gebhardt was an hour behind Burmeister.
Jeff King cruised through Takotna last night and rested for nearly five hours in Ophir before chasing 50 minutes behind Gebhardt. Kotzebue’s John Baker chased more than an hour behind King with just five minutes resting in Ophir.
None of the front-running mushers have taken their mandatory 24-hour layover, and closing in on halfway through the race, the leaders are likely to soon shift.
Girdwood’s Nick Petit has remained a strong top ten contender in his fourth Iditarod, and has been parked in Ophir since Tuesday night. He fell from second to sixth, but is likely recharging his batteries for the second half of the race. Also resting in Ophir since last night is Norwegian Joar Ulsom, who arrived just after 5 a.m. Wednesday.
Aliy Zirkle and Norwegian two-time champion Robert Sorlie, as well as both Dallas and Mitch Seavey, remained parked in Takotna since Tuesday night. Zirkle landed just after 7 p.m., with Sorlie two hours behind and the Seaveys in a dead heat one hour behind him.
They’re likely taking crucial 24 hour rests, and seeing the race out of Takotna when those mushers leave could well determine the race.
Willow musher Ramey Smyth jumped from the middle toward the front of the pack early Wednesday, rocketing through Takotna around 8:30 a.m. Smyth’s known for his speed—he consistently posts the fastest times from Nome to Safety and was hot on Baker’s heels during the race's fastest run to Nome in 2011—and his jockeying into the top ten will make that speed a serious threat once teams hit the coast.
Both Martin Buser and Kelly Maixner, the first two mushers to take their 24-hour layover (in Nikolai and Rohn, respectively), were back on the trail Wednesday. Buser was out of McGrath at 7:30, while Maixner was just pulling in two hours later.
The casualties of poor trail conditions continued to mount through Tuesday night: eleven mushers had scratched, many due to serious injuries.
Among them are Scott Janssen, the “Mushing Mortician,” who broke his foot and scratched from the race 40 miles from Nikolai.
According to Janssen’s Facebook page, “he slipped on the ice and broke his foot (and wasn’t) able to get back to his sled.” Janssen reportedly was sprawled out on the ice for more than 45 minutes before musher Newton Marshall came along to help. Newton stayed with Janssen until Iditarod crews arrived, who waited until he was airlifted out by the Alaska Air National Guard.
In addition, Canadian musher Karen Ramstead was withdrawn from the race Tuesday night in Rohn. Race officials say Ramstead wanted to continue but was withdrawn when an injury was “deemed too significant to allow safe continuation in the race.”