A Race Appears Between Last's Year Top Iditarod Finishers

Mar 5, 2019

Bethel musher Pete Kaiser arrives into the McGrath checkpoint on the Iditarod trail on March 5, 2019.
Credit Ben Matheson

5:00 p.m. March 5, 2019

Nicolas Petit was the first Iditarod musher to McGrath on Wednesday, earning him some mitts and a hat. The musher, known for getting lost, may have taken a bit of a detour on his way into town. The Iditarod’s GPS tracker showed his Girdwood team mushing the long way into McGrath. But if they took a detour upriver when they should have hung left and headed more directly across the ground, so did Joar Leifseth Ulsom’s team, which was chasing Petit in a bid to cut the Girdwood musher’s lead. Petit made it to the Kuskokwim River checkpoint at 3:16 p.m. and rested his team.

Leifseth Ulsom, who left Nikolai an hour and a half after Petit, is expected into McGrath soon, and does not appear to have made up much time. An hour and a half after Leifseth Ulsom hit the trail to McGrath, Jessie Royer left Nikolai a little after noon, starting a parade of mushers who followed her at around half hour intervals.

Bethel musher Pete Kaiser was the first to join the pack. Behind him were Aliy Zirkle, Matt Hall, Ryan Redington, Travis Beals, Richie Diehl, and Mitch Seavey. In all, about 12 mushers were out on the trail to McGrath in the heat of the day.

Two of Bethel’s rookies are on the way to Nikolai today. Jessica Klejka is expected this evening, while Niklas Wikstrand should be checking in later tonight.

Bethel’s mushing dentist, Victoria Hardwick, made it into Rohn at 3:24 p.m. She is still there as the day cools.

11:30 a.m. March 5, 2019

It's on. There is now a race between last year top two Iditarod finishers in the stretch of the trail between Nikolai and McGrath.

It started this morning when Nicolas Petit blasted through the Nikolai checkpoint a little after 9 a.m., leaving the five mushers who had already arrived behind. His dogs are stepping on the gas, looking like the team to beat.

The five include Joar Leifseth Ulsom, who came in first last year after Petit lost the trail. Leifseth Ulsom rested for another couple of hours before giving chase. If Petit keeps up the pace he could get to McGrath before 3 p.m., but the trail could get mushy by then, slowing him down.

The other mushers in Nikolai when Petit drove through include Bethel’s Pete Kaiser, Jessie Royer, Ally Zirkle, and Matt Hall. Aniak musher Richie Diehl is in Nikolai, but he never saw Petit. He arrived a little less than a half hour after Petit drove his team through the checkpoint at 9:08 a.m.

Bethel’s three rookies are in the back of the pack, with Jessica Klejka leading the way to Nikolai. She’s been on the trail from Rohn since around 8:15 a.m. Niklas Wikstrand, who arrived in Rohn a couple of hours before Klejka left, is still resting at that checkpoint. Bethel dentist and musher Victoria Hardwick continues to bring up the rear in the red lantern position. She should get to Rohn early this afternoon.

7:30 a.m. March 5, 2019 

More than half the mushers in the Iditarod are on their way out of the Alaska Range.  Last year’s winner, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, set a blistering pace, running at a speed of over 9 miles per hour into Nikolai at 6:36 a.m. 

In second place, leading the pack of 29 mushers chasing him, was Bethel’s Pete Kaiser. Not much farther back in that pack is Nicolas Petit, who was lengthening his lead over Aniak's Richie Diehl. Both are in the top 10 of the teams out of the Alaska Range and headed toward the Kuskokwim in the section of the trail toward McGrath.

Rookies Jessica Klejka and Niklas Wikstrand have both made it down the gorge into Rohn. Jessica arrived a 3:18 a.m. and was resting at the checkpoint when Niklas’s team arrived about three hours later.

Victoria Hardwick is hanging tight to the red lantern. She was the last musher into Rainy Pass, arriving a half hour after midnight. The Iditarod Tracker shows her still there this morning.