Alaska musher leads in the early stage of the Iditarod


ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A French man who saw the Iditarod slip from his grasp when he got lost in a blizzard last year is again leading the world’s most famous sled dog race.

Nicolas Petit was the first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher to arrive Monday in Rainy Pass, a community of two people and a lodge that’s open year-round.

The checkpoint is 153 miles (246 kilometers) into the nearly 1,000 mile (1,600 kilometer) race across the Alaska wilderness.

Petit stayed at the checkpoint for eight minutes before heading back out on the trail.

Pete Kaiser, a 31-year-old musher from Bethel, Alaska, was close behind Petit, leaving Rainy Pass 11 minutes after Petit got back on the trail.

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Petit is a native of France’s Normandy region and now lives in Girdwood, just south of Anchorage. He was leading last year late into the race when he lost his way in a blizzard.

He was passed by Norway’s Joar Ulsom, who beat Petit to the finish line in Nome by over two hours.

After Rainy Pass, mushers head to the next checkpoint in the uninhabited community of Rohn. There used to be a roadhouse, but it’s long gone so the checkpoint is in a cabin built in the 1930s.

Mushers must take a 24-hour layover during the race, and many take it in Rohn before heading out onto the dangerous stretch called Farewell Burn, an area littered with tree stumps and rocks that was the site of a large Alaska forest fire in the 1970s.

Fifty-two mushers started the race Sunday in Willow, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Anchorage. The race will take them over two mountain ranges, on the frozen Yukon River and up the dangerous, wind-whipped Bering Sea coast to the finish line in Nome. The winner is expected sometime next week.

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