From Kyle Hopkins in McGrath & Nikolai --
NIKOLAI – The frozen shore of the Kuskokwim River became a parking lot for sleds and snoozing dog teams today as Iditarod leaders arrived for a few hours rest before pushing ahead to McGrath.
Sebastian Schnuelle, of Whitehorse, was first to arrive despite losing his way for roughly half an hour outside of Rohn -- wandering circles around the river before spotting a trail marker.
“Same thing coming in here, with me putting the trail in for everbody else,” Schnuelle said, rooting through his gear as his dogs settled in straw beds.
"From Buffalo Camp, past Salmon River Camp to here. Pretty damn bumpy," he said.
Nikolai is an Athabascan village of about 100 people – 54 miles along the Iditarod trail from McGrath. The only roads are made by snowmachine and stacks of firewood sit in front of Lincoln log homes. The smell: Wood smoke. The sounds: A banging village power generator and barking dogs.
Volunteers stoked a barrel fire to heat steaming water for mushers like DeeDee Jonrowe, who made a stew of fish and fat for her team after parking a few yards from the river. Rick Swenson pulled in looking over his competitors gear. Who made those harnesses, he asked Jonrowe. Where did Hans Gatt get those plastic runners for his sled?
Mushers said the Iditarod trail has been good-to-great in parts, except for a bruising stretch leading into Nikolai.
Cim Smyth, who dropped a dog with shoulder injuries off at Finger Lake, said the broken tussocks left by Iron Dog snowmachines bounced along the bottom of his sled like frozen basketballs.
Elsewhere, he was drowsy, running low sleep when a series of bumps sent him bouncing off the trail. “I ran into a tree, big time.”
A few mushers said they plan to push through McGrath and take their 24-hour layovers in Takotna. There’s better pie there, Schnuelle said.