Zirkle’s Gamble

Mar 7, 2019

Musher Aliy Zirkle heating up water in the Iditarod checkpoint.
Credit Zachariah Hughes

There’s a parade of mushers running to the ghost town of Iditarod this morning, where Aliy Zirkle and her team are sleeping. The Two Rivers musher was awarded the Dorothy Page Halfway award when she arrived there at 1:39 a.m. on Thursday, March 7. This year it’s a choice between a gold iPhone with a year of free service or $3,000 in gold nuggets. 

It took Zirkle 17 hours to travel the 80 miles from Ophir to the halfway point yesterday. That’s a long time. Mushers who completed their 24-hour mandatory rest appeared to be traveling the same trail much faster overnight. Zirkle may still be sleeping this morning when those teams run through town. 

Joar Leifseth Ulsom, who started his trip through this section yesterday evening in Takotna after completing his 24 hours, is about 40 miles away. He is just behind Nicolas Petit, who had to wait three more hours to finish his 24 in Ophir after watching the Willow team blast through. Now the two of them are back playing leap-frog down the trail.

There are over 20 mushers behind them, all with fresh, well-rested teams. Racing up front with Petit are a couple of Y-K Delta teams: Pete Kaiser’s and Richie Diehl’s. This fleet of mushers has been overtaking Martin Buser, who is also headed to Iditarod, but the former champ has not yet done his 24. 

Bethel’s three rookies are all in McGrath with full teams. Jessica Klejka’s will be the first of them to head back on the trail after her 24 hour rest ends later this morning.