The danger of leading a race is setting the trail and making sure it is the right trail. Nic Petit has allowed his team to excel during this year’s race with their speed and stamina.

It’s fair to say until 8:30 a.m. Monday, he was experiencing a magic carpet ride and almost assured a place among the mushing greats as a champion.

Pulling out of Island Point shelter cabin around 6:30 a.m., Nic had a fresh team and a decent lead on Mitch Seavey, who stopped to rest with Nic, and Joar Leifseth Ulsom, who rested back in Shaktoolik.

However, this lead evaporated within two hours as his team veered sharply to the right and toward the mainland. This is a very easy thing to do along the coast of Norton Bay, especially if the winds are whipping up their fury, obscuring any sign of trail markers.  Countless mushers have been caught off the trail, including some of the best.

The important thing as a musher is to recognize the mistake immediately and backtrack. Within a half hour, Nic caught his mistake and was able to do just that, rejoining the race trail by 9:40 a.m. This is the type of slip-up on the ice that was necessary to open the door for Joar to slide ahead in the race to Nome.

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Now, this mistake may not assure a win for the Viking but increases his odds. The lead he took advantage of is a mere four miles, with some 171 miles remaining. The big question is if this detour will rattle Nic or take half a step from his team.

Another interesting factor is if Joar even knows Nic is behind him at this point. If the winds are blowing hard enough, he may never have seen where Nic originally veered off the trail. When he signs into the Koyuk checkpoint, he may be in for a bit of a surprise that could trigger a change in strategy. As I type, Mitch is still within 11 miles of Nic-- and within range of capitalizing on any additional missteps or interventions from the weather.

I fully expect all three to rest two more times before arriving in White Mountain for their mandatory eight-hour rest. However, it would not surprise me if at least one of the three cut that to just one rest and two long runs, banking on the eight hours to refresh their team enough to hold on all the way to Nome.

However this turns out, with Nitro Nic continuing his speedy run to victory, Joar the Viking returning the championship to Norway, or Old Man Seavey joining his son as a four-time champion, this race has become one for the storybooks.

Bryan Bearss trained Iditarod race teams full time from 2003 to 2009 and raced the Iditarod in 2006 and 2015. He is currently an elementary school teacher and marathon canoe racer. 

Opinions expressed are those of the author and not of KTVA 11 News.   

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