After three days of action, 44 of the 46 mushers who started the 2021 Iditarod remain in the great Alaskan sled dog race. Veteran musher Aliy Zirkle crashed her sled and had to quit the race due to a concussion. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Ryan Redington was the first musher to reach the Ophir checkpoint — approximately 352 miles into the race — with his 11 dogs. Brent Sass and his 14 dogs took the lead when they didn’t rest in Ophir and continued to race to the next checkpoint at the old mining town of Iditarod.

Ali Zirkle crashes out Iditarod 2021 Day 3 Brent Sass
Aliy Zirkle, a three-time runner-up in the Iditarod, crashed on Day 3 and withdrew from the race. (Image: Marc Lester/Reuters)

The town of Iditarod marks the half-way point on the Gold Loop Trail in the condensed version of this year’s race, and is where mushers will turn around and retrace the course back to Deshka Landing.

As of Wednesday morning (Alaska time), Sass is 377 miles into the 860-mile race. Redington, Aaron Burmeister, and Ryne Olson all reached the Ophir checkpoint, but opted for rest.

2021 Iditarod Standings
Musher  Sled Dogs
Current Location
 1. Brent Sass 14 dogs 377 miles
 2. Ryan Redington 11 dogs 352 miles
 3. Aaron Burmeister 14 dogs 352 miles
 4. Ryne Olson 13 dogs 352 miles
 5. Jessie Holmes 12 dogs 350 miles

Ryne Olson is down to 13 dogs. She’s the top woman in the standings and is trying to become the first woman to win the Iditarod since Susan Butcher’s last win in 1990.

Jessie Holmes rounded out the top five mushers. He’s down to 12 dogs and is just outside of Ophir.

Day 2: Redington and Seavey Lead

The second day of the 2021 Iditarod included the most dangerous part of the trail, the Happy River Steps between Finger Lake and Rainy Pass, as the race headed into the Alaskan mountain range.

Redington was the first musher to reach Rainy Pass, but he wouldn’t hold the lead much longer.

“Dogs running good,” Redington told race organizers at the checkpoint. “Happy to be here.”

Despite running the most treacherous part of the trail, the mushers have been making excellent time. Nicolas Petit took over the lead as the first musher to reach the Rohn checkpoint on Monday. Four-time champ Dallas Seavey was approximately an hour behind Petit.

“It’s interesting how fast this is,” said Seavey. “Like all around, man! Is it just me, or is everyone flying? Trail is perfect.”

Day 3: Aliy Zirkle Crash

Redington reached Nikola first, just before sunrise. It marked the third time he was the first musher to reach a checkpoint, which was located 263 miles into the race, nearly one-third of the way to the finish.

Aaron Burmeister arrived in Nikola an hour behind Redington. Both Redington and Burmeister rested with their dogs in Nikola.

Brent Sass was third to reach the Nikola checkpoint, approximately 90 minutes behind Redington, but he chose to skip a rest and snagged the lead on Wednesday morning.

“I’m blowing through, just grabbing stuff and taking off,” said Sass.

Fan-favorite Aliy Zirkle is the latest musher to scratch from the 2021 Iditarod. She crashed in the Dalzell Gorge, where she dislocated her shoulder and suffered a concussion. The tough Zirkle continued on toward the Rohn checkpoint, where she sought medical attention.

“Apparently I have a concussion, so calling it quits from Rohn,” said Zirkle.

All 14 of her dogs are safe and sound, but Zirkle was airlifted to a hospital in Anchorage to evaluate her head injury. Zirkle finished in second place in the Iditarod in three consecutive races between 2012 and 2014. She had been mulling retirement, and it’s sad she didn’t get to finish one last Iditarod before she officially retired after 20 completed races.

Seavey reached the McGrath checkpoint first on Wednesday afternoon. He was awarded the Alaska Airlines Spirit Award and won several handmade prizes from McGarth locals, including a beaver skin mushers hat and hand-crafted gloves.