2020 Iditarod Champion Thomas Waerner says he is being forced to skip the 2021 race because coronavirus travel restrictions are keeping him from getting his 16 dogs to Alaska.
“I had to make the difficult decision to not start in the Iditarod 2021,” Waerner told his fans via a Facebook post.
“It is a lot of work to get to the starting line in a normal year, and in this COVID times, it is not possible to get dogs and myself to Alaska,” he added.
Waerner, who is from Norway, was unhappy over being stuck in Alaska for months after winning the 2020 race in March. But now, because of those same travel restrictions, he is having problems getting himself and his dogs to Alaska to begin training for the 2021 race, which is scheduled for next March.
Race officials announced a series of provisions to make the 2021 race comport with worries over the coronavirus. Social distancing rules, not to mention testing and isolation rules for the 1,800 volunteers who help run the event.
The event is also planning for smaller crowds and fewer stops along the way to protect villagers in some of the smaller areas that the race usually touches.
“We’re really trying to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach said. “The mushers getting from checkpoint to checkpoint is the easiest piece.”
Iditarod medical consultant Dr. Jodie Guest has been working on the protocols for the race.
“I’ve really tried to do with my team is have us be a group that is that both nimble and can do testing pretty efficiently and quickly, no matter where you put us, but also a group that really can talk to and listen to communities that are not getting a lot of attention,” Guest said.