Update, 6:30 a.m. Tuesday:
Ryan Redington and his six-dog team left White Mountain in first place at 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, after their mandatory eight-hour rest. They have just 77 miles to the Nome finish. Redington’s closest competitors are Pete Kaiser and Richie Diehl. Kaiser and his eight dogs left at 4:31 a.m., with Diehl and his seven dogs following six minutes later. A winner is expected later Tuesday morning.
WHITE MOUNTAIN — Church bells and a small, enthusiastic crowd welcomed Ryan Redington and his eight dogs to White Mountain Monday afternoon.
Redington immediately bedded down his dogs on straw beds after a roughly 90-mile run from Koyuk, only pausing in Elim for 13 minutes on the way. All teams must stop for eight hours at White Mountain before their final push to Nome.
Redington was happy for the break.
“I’m really tired and my legs are cramping a little bit,” he said “I’m really excited for the rest here, the eight hours.”
The afternoon sun broke through fog at the checkpoint on the banks of the Fish River. Redington fetched multiple loads of cold water from a hole in the ice to cook into a hot soupy meal for his team.
Redington said it had not sunk in yet that he’s in the position to win his first Iditarod.
“Trying not to think about it too much, but we’ve got a huge lead,” he said. “But we still have 77 miles to go.”
That lead grew Monday when Redington’s closest competitor, Pete Kaiser, stopped for more than five hours in Elim, while Redington kept on mushing toward White Mountain.
“I didn’t know if Pete was going to go through or not, so I made the move to hopefully have good results in Nome,” said Redington.
After his extended break in Elim, Kaiser made up some time on the way to White Mountain — but not a ton. He was still more than four hours behind Redington reaching the checkpoint.
Kaiser and his eight dogs pulled in at 8:29 p.m. He fed his team and settled in for a rest. He recalled that he had two distinct plans as he approached Elim.
“Plan A, if the team looked strong, was to go through. Plan B, if they needed a rest, was to stay there, so it was like a 50/50,” he said.
Kaiser chose plan B.
“It felt like they needed a little extra rest and took that chance and said, ‘I’m going to back off chasing Ryan for now and give them the rest they need,’” he said.
If something unexpected happened to Redington’s team on the notoriously unpredictable coast, Kaiser said, he wanted to have a well-rested team.
The tightest race on the podium may be for second place. Kaiser holds a razor thin margin over Richie Diehl, who raced into White Mountain just eight minutes after Kaiser arrived. Diehl said he’s having fun as he eyes a top three placing in his 11th Iditarod.
“Competing at this level, to me anyway — I enjoy it, it’s a riot. I mean this is why I race,” he said.
Diehl, Kaiser and Redington are all good friends, and they’re also all Alaska Native mushers. Redington has commended his closest competitors for teaching him a lot during Iditarod races.
The three teams surged to the front after a couple big shakeups in the second half of the race.
In Eagle Island on Saturday, reigning champ Brent Sass — who had been leading much of the race — dropped out citing a bad cold and three cracked teeth. Then Jessie Holmes, another early race leader, saw his team start to slow down.
Redington saw his opening and made a run for it, with Kaiser and Diehl close behind.
Redington got further ahead by making two marathon runs in the race’s final 300 miles — going nonstop while his rivals broke the trail into smaller sections.
“We had to work really hard to get to this position,” said Redington. “I knew we have a good dog team though.That’s for sure.”
Before this year, Redington’s best finish was seventh in 2021.
It’s rare for the finish order to change dramatically between White Mountain and Nome, but sudden storms and brutal winds have snarled the momentum of would-be champions.
Redington has several leaders who may bring the team to Nome over the challenging stretches of windy and unprotected trail, among them Ghost, Elvis, Sven and Rivet.
“They’re smooth runners and I just feel like we worked hard for the training of them and to prepare them for this race,” said Redington.
This race has been generations in the making for Redington. His grandfather Joe Redington Sr. is considered one of the founders of the Iditarod. His father Raymie has completed several Iditarods and is among the six Redingtons in his extended family listed in the Iditarod archives.
Ryan Redington said he would be proud to be the first of his family to win.
“It’d be a really cool honor. And it’d be a really good thing for the race and Alaska and for my family,” said Redington. “Pretty major event grandpa started here.”
And if Redington finishes in first place, he’ll get the distinct honor of winning a trophy that was named for his grandfather.
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