Jake Berkowitz and his team of 16 dogs became the first sled to reach the Ophir checkpoint at 1:14 a.m. local time on Wednesday in the 2013 Iditarod. Berkowitz made a late-night trek, leaving Takotna at 10:42 p.m. He and his dogs are now taking a break as three more racers make their way to Ophir, a ghost town that marks the divide between the northern and southerns routes on the Iditarod Trail (mushers are using the southern route this year).
Nicholas Petit, Sonny Lindner, and Lance Mackey all left Takotna is the early morning hours. Petit and Lindner barely took a rest at the checkpoint, sitting for 14 and two minutes each. Mackey used the spot for a much longer break, stopping for more than five hours, and then stayed in Ophir for just 15 minutes, becoming the first team to make way for the Iditarod checkpoint.
Jeff King, who currently sits in 17th place, is joining Petit and Lindner by choosing not to rest at Takotna. King has good reason for that choice, according to Joe Runyan of Iditarod.com:
When asked why he decided not to stay in Takotna, his normal habit, "Good weather, good trail, and too many mushers think its a good idea to stay in Takotna," seemed like a logical answer.
The mushers embarking during the day could face harsh weather conditions -- there is a severe weather watch until Friday, with high winds expected. Otherwise, there should be a high in the low 30s with light snow falling throughout.
Martin Buser, the race leader on paper (he has already taken his mandatory 24-hour layover, putting him about seven hours ahead of the frontrunners on the trail), pulled out of Nikolai 1:22 a.m. on Wednesday, stopping for just seven minutes, apparently because he has dogs that are in heat. Buser detailed his gutsy strategy -- running nearly non-stop for 180 miles -- while preparing his team to leave the Rohn checkpoint:
The run from Ophir to the next checkpoint, the town of Iditarod, is an empty and lonely 80-90-mile stretch. Iditarod, a ghost town that once had a population upwards of 10,000 people during the gold rush in the early 1900s, marks the halfway point of the 2013 race.
Two racers have been scratched thus far. Scott Janssen pulled out at Rainey Pass, while Ed Stielstra only made the trip to the first checkpoint. The complete standings can be found at Iditarod.com.