Aklestad/Olstad lead Iron Dog racers to Nome
By Megan Gannon
It was just around 3 p.m. on Monday when the first headlights appeared on Front Street in Nome.
The Iron Dog, the world’s longest cross-country snowmachine competition, marks its ceremonial halfway point here, and Team 7’s Tyler Aklestad and Nick Olstad were the first to arrive under overcast skies and flat light.
They checked in at 2:49 p.m., with a total race time of 29 hours, 23 minutes and 34 seconds—and a lead of about a half hour on the next pair trailing them, Casey Boylan and Bryan Leslie of Team 14. Another 16 minutes behind was Team 39, Cody Barber and Brett Lapham.
“We’re glad to be here,” said Olstad after pulling up to the inflatable Iron Dog arch in front of City Hall on his Ski-Doo sled. The race organizers had added an extra 470-mile loop to Kotzebue in 2020, and this year was the first time the competitors completed that loop before getting to Nome. The teams were held in Kotzebue Sunday night and left the next morning, facing poor visibility much of the way, especially beyond Buckland.
“The conditions were good—you just couldn’t see anything almost the whole way,” Olstad said. “You were scraping your goggles the whole time, you could only see two feet in front of you. The light was flat like you were in the clouds.”
Others were trailing further behind, including Jordan and Jarvis Miller, a pair of brothers from Nome racing Ski-Doo 600 competition sleds. They made it to the check-in at Nome just after 9 p.m. on Monday, with a total race time of 33 hours, 2 minutes and 28 seconds.
Fortunately the remaining teams arrived before a storm with high winds and blowing snow picked up in Nome on Tuesday morning, causing schools and several businesses and offices to close. As the storm blew outside, the racers were getting their sleds checked out during Tuesday’s wrench day. The teams were also scheduled for a public banquet at the Mini Convention Center.
By the time they got to Nome, the racers had completed 1,482 miles but still had more than 1,000 miles to go back to Big Lake, where they are expected to arrive at the finish line this weekend. Of the 25 teams that started the race, 10 had already scratched, including Mike Morgan of Nome and his teammate Chris Olds, racing on Polaris Cross Country 600 sleds.
“We had a minor suspension issue outside of Ophir,” said Morgan. “We pulled a bunch of stuff out so we could still ride the machine. So, we limped it basically 150 miles to Ruby.” He said the race organizers this year instituted new rules that didn’t allow them to accept replacement parts at an earlier checkpoint in Poorman. After they made some repairs in Ruby, they left with a good place, but then Morgan had a race-ending wipeout.
“I came over a rise on the river about 10 miles out of Galena and there was an exposed sandbar and I hit the edge of that,” he said. “It was like hitting a piece of concrete. I wiped out pretty hard and it took the whole structure off the machine.”
Morgan said he landed in soft snow and was not injured.
“It’s a bummer,” he said. “It stings. We had a really good run going.”
Olds chauffeured one of the trail class snowmachiners the rest of the way into Nome on Monday, and Morgan met him at the arch. Morgan said he’ll go back to Anchorage to regroup and get another sled ready for the Nome-Golovin race and a handful of other races.
“I’m pretty hungry for a win so I’m gonna come out the Nome-Golovin swinging,” he said.