As Sunday afternoon bleeds into evening, Nicolas Petit heads out of Unalakleet. With no ice and warm temperatures, he and others are banking on cooler nighttime temperatures for their teams as they hug the coast of Norton Sound on the way to Nome. Fourteen miles behind Petit is a clump of three teams: Pete Kaiser, Jessie Royer, and Joar Leifseth Ulsom, the winner of last year’s race. None of these mushers are strangers to the top 10.
Still working their way into Unalakleet are former champ Mitch Seavey, who has been a top 10 finisher 16 times, Ally Zirkle, also used to finishing up front, and Jesse Holmes, a man who finished 7th in 2018 and earned Rookie of the Year honors. Behind them, on the trail from Kaltag to Unalakleet, are another 10 teams. These include Aniak’s Richie Diehl, who also finished in the top 10 last year.
Farther back are two Bethel rookies, Jessica Klejka and Niklas Wikstrand, who spent the day mushing to Eagle Island where they are now resting their teams before moving on up the Yukon River. Victoria Hardwick spent the day in Shageluk, resting. There is one team behind her: Cindy Gallea from Minnesota, who is no stranger to the back of the pack. Gallea is a veteran who has run 14 times and finished 12 of those races. Her best finish was 33rd place.