The 2021 Iditarod lost two more mushers, meaning only 42 remain out of the original 46 sled dog teams that began the race on Sunday. Brent Sass and his 14 dogs in harness were the first team to reach the old gold mining and ghost town of Iditarod on Wednesday evening, where they rested for an extended break. Aaron Peck and Mille Porsild are the only other mushers who arrived at the new midway mark of the 2021 Iditarod.

Peter Kaiser 2021 Iditarod Mille Porsild Ghost Town
2018 Iditarod champion Peter Kaiser and his dogs rest along the trail in the 2021 Iditarod. (Image: Zachariah Hughes/ADN)

Due to the pandemic, the race organizers tweaked the great Alaskan sled dog race. Instead of a 1,000-mile trek from Anchorage to Nome, the 2021 Iditarod was reduced to an 860-mile journey from Deshka Landing to the ghost town of Iditarod and back.

2021 Iditarod Standings
Dogs Miles to Go
 1. Brent Sass 14 436
 2. Aaron Peck 14 436
 3. Mille Porsild 11 436
 4. Dallas Seavey 14 472
 5. Travis Beals 11 474
 6. Peter Kaiser 12 475
 7. Joar Leifseth Ulsom 14 475
 8. Richie Diehl 14 475

The abandoned town of Iditarod currently has no residents. During the gold rush, the town was named after the nearby Iditarod River where gold prospectors traversed in search of riches after a pair of prospectors struck gold in 1908. By the 1930s, mining operations in the area ceased and the 50 or so remaining residents of Iditarod moved to Flat, Alaska.

Day 4: Reaching the Ghost Town

The Iditarod race got its name from the trail that mushers traveled while making their way from Anchorage to Nome nearly 50 years ago. The race to Nome pays homage to the mushers who made a courageous sled dog run in 1925 when they transported serum to Nome after a diphtheria outbreak nearly wiped everyone out. The lead dogs, Togo and Balto, are considered heroes to Native Alaskans, and you’ll find numerous statues and monuments constructed in their honor.

All mushing teams must take a mandatory 24-hour rest break before they reach the race’s midpoint. Many of the mushers opted to rest at the Ophir checkpoint, while the three leaders — Sass, Porsild, and Peck — opted to press on and settle in for their 24-hour rest when they reached the Iditarod checkpoint.

Ryan Redington, the grandson of one of the Iditarod’s original founders, reached the Ophir checkpoint first and had an 83-minute lead over Sass. Redington opted for his break while Sass pressed on. Reddington has only 11 dogs in harness and he’s currently in 10th place with 485 miles to go.

Four-time champion Dallas Seavey opted to take his rest earlier in the race at the McGrath checkpoint. Seavey is currently in fourth place.

Porsild sits in third place as the top woman in the standings. Porsild won the 2020 Iditarod Rookie of the Year when she finished in 15th place. She has only 11 dogs in harness and opted to go as far as she could before taking a mandatory 24-hour break.

Sass was the first team to arrive at Iditarod around 6pm local time on Wednesday. Sass finished in fourth place last year and he’s also a three-time Yukon Quest champion. Peck and Porsild trailed Sass by nearly 90 minutes.

Down to 42, Johnson Tests Positive for COVID-19

The organizers initially planned on teams turning around in Flat, Alaska. However, heavy snow wiped out the trail, so the ghost town of Iditarod will now be the turnaround point. As a result, 20 miles were chopped off the race due to excessive loose snow.

“The Iditarod trailbreaker crew has had a challenging time breaking the trail open due to the sheer volume of accumulated snow, and has been unable to dig out a safe, well-marked trail to allow teams to travel to Flat,” said race marshal Mark Nordman.

Gunner Johnson of Duluth, Minnesota, became the first musher to test positive for COVID-19. Health officials flagged Johnson during multiple tests at the McGrath checkpoint. He is the first musher forced to withdraw due to COVID-19 safety protocols. At the time he reached McGrath, Johnson had all 14 dogs in harness.

Brenda Mackey, a rookie musher in her first Iditarod, scratched yesterday at the Nikola checkpoint. Brenda is the niece of four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey. Down to only nine dogs in harness, she believed it would be in the best interest of her dog team to not continue the race.

With Mackey and Johnson out, only 42 mushers remain in the 2021 Iditarod. Based upon the speed of the first half of the race, the first team should reach the finish line in Deshka Landing on Sunday.