Nikolai, Alaska — At the musher meeting last week Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race officials showed rookie Nathan Schroeder and everyone else six pictures of what were considered the worse sections of the course. What he saw wasn’t too concerning. Sure, snow was a little bare in some spots, but no worse than what he was seeing Tuesday afternoon in Nikolai. Here, in the small Athabascan village of about 90, there was plenty of snow, deep enough to set a snow hook and more than sufficient to drive a dog team across.
But that is not what Schroeder was getting into early this week. Instead there’s been nothing but barren trail, covered in rocks, punctuated by steep, icy descents, open water and even holes to navigate around.
“It’s a nice looking four-wheeler trail,” he said. “It’s not a dog sled trail.”
As they shared bowls of moose stew and commiserated together, mushers shared war stories and battle wounds with one another in the Nikolai, Alaska school.
Fox musher Ken Anderson couldn’t believe race officials had decided to take mushers down the course. He said the trail between Rohn and Nikolai was “steep, tussocky and rocky. Nothing was consistent. You were constantly reacting to stuff.”
“There was serious misrepresentation on the trail,” he said, bent down on his knees, pounding his runner plastic off his sled with an axe. “If we had known it was this bad we (the mushers) would have boycotted.”
Katherine Keith, running a team out 2011 champ John Baker’s kennel, had a spare sled in Nikolai, Alaska. Despite her rookie status, she was one of the smart ones. Her undamaged sled looks fresh out of the box compared to the lashed together, rickety, shredded sleds most other mushers are steering their teams with. “This has exceeded my expectations in terms of difficulty,” she said.