With essentially a third of the race under their runners, Anna (reported out in 50th) and Kristy (51st) pulled out of Takotna just before 7:30pm Alaska time Thursday night, March 8th. It's a great sign that Anna pulled out with the same 14 canine friends she arrived with, and Kristy only dropped one, leaving her with a solid 15. Unfortunately I am not able to get specific information as to the dogs dropped and why. But from what I have read, the majority of dogs dropped by any musher thus far in the face was for fairly minor or precautionary reasons. Things like sore wrists, prolonged changes in how they are running that could point to a tender shoulder.
There have been a couple of close calls during the race. Our freind Scott, the Mushin' Mortician, had a dog ~ Marshall ~ collapse but was able to revive him and take him in the basket to the next checkpoint. Marshall is reportedly doing just fine, and vets haven't pinpointed what caused the collapse. He allegedly looked a bit forlorn not to be pulling out with the rest of the team. Another musher was knocked off his sled, and the team went on without him. When he caught up to them, a dog was entangled in the lines, but luckily uninjured. This race is certainly not without its risks, to dogs and mushers alike.
With regard to the mushers, the first few have decided to drop out of the race. Those deciding to scratch did so largely out of concern for their dogs or personal reasons. The distance they covered is no small accomplishment, and we wish them safe and swift travels to their home kennels. There are now 63 mushers out on the trail.
The run from Takotna to Ophir is about 23 miles and generally an uneventful stretch of trail crossing a number of creeks. It promises to be cold, though, as our friend Stephanie is calling for temps in the -10s to -20s F (more details in the weather line on the sidebar to the right). Having just come off their 24, I suspect Kristy and Anna's stop in Ophir will be brief. The next run, 73 miles to Cripple, gets them into Yukon River territory. It's a long section of trail, but if the snow pack holds up, it should be a pretty brisk run. And then a 4-5 hour rest in Cripple wouldn't surprise me.
Our friend Scott pulled out of Ophir just before 7:15pm on Thurs. with 13 dogs on his sled and in 44th. Meanwhile, Paul is sticking in the top 20 ~ currently holding 18th, as he pulls into Cripple at 9:18pm, also with 13 dogs. Half a dozen other mushers have already pulled out of Cripple, which is largely considered the halfway point in the race. They're each running 14 - 16 dog teams. Aliy Zirkle is having an impressive run, but close behind are two Seaveys, Baker, and a Redington. There is a lot of race left, and while I suspect we'll seeing positions stabilize for a bit as everyone comes off their 24, it's too soon (at least for me!) to call who will reach Nome first.
As for Kristy and Anna, their expectations when starting this race were modest ~ to reach the finish line with as many happy and healthy dogs as possible. They're racing against mushers and veteran dog teams that have run the Iditarod dozens of times. While it is nice to be competitive, one must also be realistic. But they will gain experience, and that is invaluable. And I think you will agree after watching the below clip, that it sure seems like they're having a great deal of fun out there.
Temperatures overnight will dip down into the -10's to -20's. Highs tomorrow will be in the upper single digits. The sun may peak through the clouds tomorrow for a change.
A surface low-pressure system in the southern Gulf of Alaska will be trekking further northward into the Prince William Sound on Friday. This will keep winds out of the NE tonight, shifting to NW winds through the day tomorrow. Wind speeds will be around 10-15 mph. Wind chills will be below 0°F Thursday night and Friday.
No precipitation is expected Thursday night or Friday for the part of the trail Anna and Kristy will be traveling. Visibility will be good.
Great to find a couple of photos of the twins in Takotna. Even better to read Anna's quote accompanying the first picture!!
"I don't think anyone's having as much fun as we are," Anna said.
After just over 3 hours on the trail from McGrath, Anna and Kristy are confirmed in Takotna at just after 6pm Alaska time on Wed. March 7th. Anna is reported in 41st place and Kristy in 42nd. It's great to see them regain some positions, especially while covering the tricky sections of trail they've seen over the last 100 miles or so!
One thing to note about the current standings, though... expect them to jockey around a lot in the next day or two as mushers declare and take their layovers at different times and in different checkpoints. Lance Mackey, for example, is listed as being in 44th place right now. But that's because he stopped in McGrath nearly 24 hours ago, making it a near certainty that is where he is taking his layover. When his layover as well as the additional time adjustment to equalize the 2-minute interval start are done, watch him tear through Takotna. He'll likely make a very short stop there and move down the trail, thereby passing all the folks still wrapping up their 24s in that checkpoint.
As I mentioned at the end of my last post, I fully expect the twins to declare and take their 24 hour mandatory layover in Takotna. Not only did they have reserve sleds shipped here in case they were needed, Takotna is also known for having great musher facilities including a good cook, access to already-hot water for the dogs, and I've heard this is the stop with 24 hour pie. Yep, fresh baked pie. Can you imagine what that tastes like after 300 miles of trail? Mmm Mmm good!
As of this posting, Kristy and Anna are at race mile 297 and not long out of the checkpoint of McGrath. Anna is reported in 42nd and Kristy in 43rd place. They should be reaching Takotna (race mile 301) shortly. They have been moving almost entirely in tandem thus far during the race, which was something they had previously said they would enjoy but only if it was in the best interests of both dog teams.
Kristy is still running a full team of 16 dogs, and Anna has dropped two, taking her to 14. I do not currently know which dogs Anna dropped or why. I can tell you that prior to leaving, she was candid about the fact that there were 3 or 4 dogs on her radar that she wouldn't be surprised to drop during the race, so I have no reason to believe the cause is anything serious.
Takotna, which the twins will be pulling into any moment, is a popular spot for mushers to take their mandatory 24 hour layover, and I expect Kristy and Anna will be doing the same. Not only will the dogs need a good rest, but neither twin has probably gotten more than a short nap or two in the 3 days they have now been out on the trail. If their sleds took a beating over the trail thus far, this is also the checkpoint where they shipped a reserve sled.
Speaking of the trail, let's take a closer look at what they've covered so far. Remember, I'm just piecing stuff together, too, so there's some informed speculation here. And if someone has seen something I haven't, please please email us! But here is how I suspect things have shook out so far.
The 42 miles from Willow to Yentna Station would have consisted primarily of alternating birch woods and spruce swamps, with gently rolling hills and likely a fair amount of snow cover. They checked into Yentna briefly mid-Sunday evening and pulled out right away. The 30 mile run from Yentna to Skwentna is typically flat and fast, so I was a bit surprised to see their enroute time at just over 8.5 hours. However, given that they only stayed in Skwentna briefly, it makes sense to me that they opted to camp along the way as opposed to in Skwentna with a gaggle of other mushers. It is also worth noting that Anna dropped a dog upon arriving in Skwentna, so whatever prompted the dog to be dropped was likely slowing them down as well.
After leaving Skwentna around 4am on Monday, they had a 40 mile run to Finger Lake. Although this stretch is primarily uphill, it typically isn't very rough trail. It took them a little under 6 hours to cover this stretch, which is well within the general trail guidelines. They got into Finger Lake around 10am Monday.
Kristy and Anna rested in Finger Lake for about 5.5 hours before pulling out just after 3:30pm Monday and tackling the next stretch of trail, which they likely did with increasing winds and snowfall. The 30 miles between Finger Lake and Rainy Pass is home of the legendary Happy Steps. Prior to the race, officials had decided to route the trail around the Happy Steps in the interests of dog and musher safety, as this section has in the past caused everything from broken sleds to broken ribs. But right before the start, it was determined that the new trail was windblown and snowy enough to pose a greater threat than the Steps. So they were back on the map!
The Happy Steps is an abrupt downhill section of trail with sharp turns that is lined with big, unforgiving trees and brush. I think this excerpt from Donald Bowers Jr. does it the most justice:"After a mile or so of dropping down toward the valley and zigzagging through the forest, you’ll plunge down a short but very steep hill; directly in front of you will be one of the warning signs and the trail will vanish over the edge of what looks like a cliff. It is a cliff. This is the entrance to the Happy River Steps. Stop the dogs at the top, say your prayers, revise your will, and then see how gently you can get the dogs to creep down the hill. Of course, you will be standing on your brake for all you’re worth."
Courtesy of the Iditarod Trail Guide
Needless to say, I was quite happy and a little relieved when they pulled into Rainy Pass around 7:40pm Monday night and I knew the ironically named Happy Steps were behind them. I also heard that the amount of snow on the trail this year is actually of benefit to the Happy Steps, providing enough of a base for dozens of teams to pass - and heavily brake - through without getting torn up. Whatever challenges this section provided, they made it through! And after about 3 hours and 40 minutes of rest in Rainy Pass, they took off again for Rohn at about 11:18pm Monday night.
The 35 mile run from Rainy Pass to Rohn takes you to the summit of the pass which is part of the Alaska Range and also the highest point on the trail at 3,160 feet. After that, mushers must deal with the Dalzell Gorge and the 200-foot steep hill one must traverse to get to its bottom. The Dalzell Gorge is another known spot of difficulty along the trail and has taken more than a few mushers out of the race in the past. It took them about 4 hours 45 minutes to cover this section, putting them into Rohn around 4am on Tuesday.
After just over 5 hours rest in Rohn, Kristy and Anna struck out for Nikolia at 9:10am on Tuesday morning. This stretch of trail is 75 miles long and the longest between checkpoints that they've seen yet in the race. It also took them across another notorious stretch of trail ~ the Farewell Burn. When I asked the twins which section of trail had them most leery, they both pointed to this one. Kristy wasn't looking forward to the stretch immediately leaving Rohn, as it is known for being poor, rough trail with little snow cover and very high winds. It can also be exceptionally icy. Beyond that lies the section on Anna's radar, the Farewell Burn. It is a section of trail hit by one of Alaska's largest forest fires, leaving behind stumps and remnants of trees that can tear up a sled and make for one rough, bumpy ride. Veteran mushers often say that if you've made it to Nikolai "with your team and your wits intact, you've got a good chance to finish the race." As the twins have now successfully covered this part of trail, I hope it's true!
Given the length and difficulty of that section of trail, it didn't surprise me to see it take the twins just over 14.5 hours to cover the distance, putting them into Nikolai just before midnight, late on Tuesday March 6th. They took a well-earned break here of just under 7 hours beore heading out on the 48 miles from Nikolai to McGrath. They hit the trail at 6:38am today (Wed. March 7th). Anna did drop her second dog in Nikolai, taking her down to 14. Given the long, rough section of trail they just covered, it is not uncommon to drop a dog here, and if you look at this year's teams, about half dropped 1 dog, some dropped 2 dogs.
The twins reached McGrath just before 3pm on Wednesday afternoon. They stopped there only briefly, probably anxious to put the next 18 miles between them and Takotna under their runners and get started on some well deserved rest for their dogs and themselves.
Lows tonight will be around 0°F. Thursday afternoon highs will be in the upper teens. A low-pressure system in the Bering Sea will track across the Aleutian Islands Thursday afternoon and bring cooler temperatures to the area on Friday.
Winds will remain out the southwest tonight at about 10mph. On Thursday, winds will be relatively calm and become more northerly with speeds 10-15mph late in the day.
Some snow showers will still be possible in the Upper Kuskokwim Valley tonight; however, accumulations will likely be under 0.5". By Thursday, no snow should be occuring along the trail. Cloudy conditions will persist throughout the day Thursday.
Hello Everyone! Apologies for not providing a more thorough race update prior to now, but it has been a crazy few days. I'll do my best to get you completely up to speed on the race to this point, so brace yourself for a long posting or two. Or, as Kristy and Anna might say as it pertains to mushing... Sit back, relax, and enjoy the closest thing you'll find to a magic carpet ride!
But first, in case you don't already know... Who the heck is posting updates to their site while they're out on the trail, anyway? The twins aren't allowed any two-way communication devices out there, and even if they were, one can only imagine they wouldn't have time or energy to spare for the internet. That's where I come in... My name is Kat, and I am Kristy and Anna's older, non-mushing sister. I still live in our home state of Wisconsin, but I did make the trip to Anchorage to witness the start of the Iditarod. And while I am currently back in Milwaukee, piecing together updates and information by computer like so many of you, I will be returning to Alaska and going all the way to Nome early next week. So you can look forward to a firsthand account of the finish!
But that's more than enough about me. Let's get back to the twins... Having arrived in Anchorage on Thurs. March 1st, I was able to attend the Musher Banquet with them that evening. They certainly make quite the pair, and it was really neat to see them both in the limelight this year, signing autographs, smiling for the cameras, and answering questions about themselves and the upcoming race. I remember Kristy being fairly nervous through these sorts of race preliminaries her rookie year, but Anna, to her credit, seemed to be cruising smoothly through with the quiet confidence gained over the prior two years of being by her twin's side.
That confidence was still present and accounted for in both twins Saturday morning of the Ceremonial Start. Despite their respective dog trucks being parked about a block apart, they still had time to run back and forth through the gently falling snow for joint interviews and last minute questions and advice. I was not able to see them to the starting line as I normally would have because I had the pleasure of riding as Paul Gebhardt's second musher for this leg of the race. But I can attest the twins were all smiles as Paul and I pulled out in the 25th spot.
The Ceremonial Start consists of a course roughly 8-11 miles going from downtown Anchorage to the Campbell Airstrip. It does not count towards the official race time and includes a second musher and only 12 of the allowed 16 dogs. The first mile or two actually takes place on city streets covered in snow that was trucked in the night before. By and large, this section of trail is not very technical, but there are a few things than can throw teams for a loop. There are hundreds of spectators lining the route, a couple of 90 degree corners and steep hills, not to mention a few bridges and tunnels that the dogs never see out in the wilderness and can make them balk. I think each of the three of us had a couple of close calls, but overall the first stretch of trail was an uneventful one.
Paul Gebhardt, with his Iditarider in the basket and his 2nd musher Kat on the back, round the 4th Ave / Cordova corner during the Ceremonial Start.
Anna and her Iditarider have a close call during the Ceremonial Start. Don't worry... Anna managed to pull out of this without spilling the sled (just don't ask me how...).
After the day's festivities wrapped up and we got the dogs settled, we all went out for dinner. I'm not sure what transpired between the conclusion of the Ceremonial Start and our sitting down with menus... Maybe it was the fact that the familiar preliminaries were done and the real thing only hours away... Maybe it was the ITC announcing the dreaded Happy River Steps were back in the race route... But whatever it was, Nervous Anna had made her arrival! While Paul told stories of Iditarods past and Kristy heartily attacked a 10 ounce sirloin steak, Anna sat quietly picking at a small cup of chili and a milkshake. Clearly stomach butterflies were impacting her appetite!
Sunday morning, March 4th, dawned as a bright, cold day full of excitement. The temp on the truck read 9 degrees F, but it didn't feel that cold. I caught a ride from Anchorage up to Willow with Kristy, Paul, and Gary (if you followed Kristy in the Yukon Quest, you may recall Gary was one of her handlers and a friend of the kennel). Anna and her team, traveling with Dean Osmar and Team Janssen, were not far behind us. Even if you're just a spectator and not involved behind the scenes, you'll feel the change in energy between the two days' events. While the former is a fun, parade-like atmosphere, the "restart" is all business for the race officials and mushers, their handlers, and the dogs. Sleds are packed and given a new set of runner plastic to suit conditions; dogs go through microchip and vet checks; mushers verify they have all their required gear for race officials. It's GO TIME, no doubt about it.
I think both Kristy and Anna were a bit nervous at this point, although they did little to show it. They still signed autographs for fans and did quick interviews as they carefully went through their final pre-race checklists. Each dog was given attention, ranging from harnessing to booties to encouraging kisses and scratches. The twins shook it off when race officals went around warning teams that the first couple hundred yards of trail off the starting line was wet and sloppy with overflow. They made and took last minute phone calls from family that were unable to attend in person. And before you know it, ganglines were laid out, dogs were hooked into place, the last layers of parkas and gloves and race bibs were put on, and final time warnings given.
Paul Gebhardt, wearing bib #25, was the first of our posse to hit the trail. After Kristy helped her mentor get his dog team in place, she walked over to me and mumbled, "Geez, 12 minutes doesn't seem like a lot of time to get 16 dogs in place and ready to go." That's how much time she had between Paul pulling away from their truck and her needing to be ready to do the same. But it was enough time, not only to get the dogs in place but also for a quick see-you-soon goodbye to Anna and a slightly longer see-you-in-Nome goodbye to me. And then Kristy, wearing bib #31, was off, making her way through the staging area to the starting line and then down the trail on her way to Nome.
With only 4-5 minutes remaining, I took my place amongst Anna's dogs and handlers while she made final preparations and stepped on the runners of her sled. We got the signal to make our way through the staging area, and heard Kristy being announced. Anna was at the starting line 4 minutes later, which could hardly be more fitting as she was born only 5 minutes after her sister. Additional handlers secured her sled while she made a final run down her team of 16 bouncing, howling dogs, and said good bye to her handlers (yours truly included ~ find video clips on our YouTube channel). And then Anna, with a smile and look of determination on her face, joined her sister on the long journey across Alaska.
After Anna and Kristy hit the trail, Scott Janssen bib #37 ~ a.k.a. the Mushing Mortician ~ a friend of the kennel and sponsor, hit the trail. Those of us in the teams' respective crews packed up the dog trucks and remaining gear and supplies and hit the road. Most folks had dogs waiting at home kennels, jobs, or family to get to.
Before going to the airport to catch the redeye back to Wisconsin, I helped drop off the dog truck in the hills outside of Anchorage. As the sun went down, so did the temperature. Fast. As the sun dipped below the horizon, I couldn't help but be struck by a sense of awe, and extremely humbled, by what these 66 mushers and their dogs had just set out to accomplish.
Temperatures Tuesday night will dip down into the upper single digits. Wednesday high temperatures in McGrath and the surrounding area will be in the mid to upper 20's. After Wednesday, temperatures will likely cool down over the trail as the next system begins to move in.
Winds will stay out of the SSW at around 10-20 mph tonight. Wind speeds will decrease throughout the day Wednesday as the current system moves out of the area. Expected winds tomorrow can be around 5-10 mph. Winds may become more westerly late in the day Wednesday. Wind chill values will be in the -10's tonight and in the 0's tomorrow.
Snowfall will continue to be scattered throughout tonight and into tomorrow for the Upper Kuskokwim Valley associated with a surface low-pressure system in the Bering Sea. McGrath, AK saw about 2" of snow last night. Additional accumulations could reach 1" tonight and another 1-2" is possible tomorrow. Chances of snow diminish during the day Wednesday. Snowfall will likely be light where it occurs.
Check out some video uploads from the start of the race. Apologize to those around you and turn up the volume. Don't be surprised if a few attract the attention of family pets!
Click here! Seeing Double's You Tube Channel