NOME, Alaska (KTUU) - After pulling through the world-famous burled archway in Nome, Nic Petit, originally from France but longtime Alaskan resident, was greeted by fanfare. Less fanfare, however, than could have been expected had he arrived at his estimated time out of Safety. Many were surprised to see him so soon, and some missed him entirely.
"I don't know why that's a surprise," Petit said of the crowd's reaction to his speedy final leg of the race. "My team's been the fastest all the way from Anchorage, to the wrong turn," Petit said. "We went fast on the wrong turn, then we slowed down at the end of that because we went an extra 10 miles through some really soft, punchy, weird stuff, looking for a trail."
Petit is referring to a critical junction in this year's race, where he and his team took a wrong turn in the road. Previously, Petit was recorded as leading with a healthy two hours over pursuing musher, and eventual Iditarod 2018 champion, Joar Ulsom.
"I heard about open water before the race, and I wasn't about to go seek the trail out too far to the west," Petit explained. "So, I looked to the west a little bit, didn't see anything, went east, figured maybe I would find that over land trail they talked about."
However, Petit never found another trail, and the error could have cost him the lead. He said that he drove his dogs to the point where his GPS said there was a trail, but saw none.
"I did loops and there's no trail where there's a trail on the GPS, so, I turned them around," Petit said Wednesday after pulling in to Nome. "Eventually I saw a trail marker, got on that trail, and this is how few trail markers there were. On one side, I see a trail marker way far out there. On the other side, you don't see one."
"You probably should be able to see a couple trail markers when you're going on a known blowing piece of ice," Petit said. "So par for the course, I guess."
Despite his second place finish and his checkpoint mishap, Petit said his confidence in his dog team hasn't changed, and he believes that he truly had the fastest team. He said he noticed he had a good chance of winning the race early on.
"I camped on the river, and one of them went by while I was sleeping," Petit said. "And then here comes Joar, and I got up after he went. And usually dogs wake up, and then you move slow, and then they pick up speed. And that's how they did it, my dogs. While they were moving slow, I caught up to Joar. And we started picking up speed, and we flew by Mitch, and I thought, you know, I think I've got the dog team that's going to win, if I do everything right."
Unfortunately, Petit did not wind up winning. Whether he could have taken first place this year, aside from the mishap or, as he calls it, if he had done everything right, will never be known.
Rather than taking a loss with a defeatist mindset, Petit said his performance this year showed him that he really does have a winning formula on his hands when it comes to speed and pacing. He had some advice for those who may compete against him for next year's title.
"Good luck keeping up," Petit said, following this year's results. "My dog team is proving that we have to have a major problem in order to not make it to the finish line first."
"It's an awesome team, looking forward to win it next year."