Official race standings finally updated later in the day on Tuesday to confirm what I had guided. Namely, the twins arrived with their dogs in the prior checkpoint of Nikolai just before 12:30pm. They rested in checkpoint for nearly 5 1/2 hours and used some of that time to work with vets and ultimately decide to return one more dog each. This gave both Anna and Kristy 12 dogs on the line when they pulled out of Nik just before 6pm Tuesday evening.
They spent a little over 7 hours on the trail covering the 48 miles from Nik to McGrath. With average moving speeds of a little over 8mph, they spent the majority of that time moving along the trail, taking only brief rests to snack the dogs, untangle a line, or replace a bootie. I think there is a very good chance they will 24 in McGrath, and if we don't see their GPS trackers moving down the trail again by noon Alaska time Wednesday (after 11 hours in checkpoint), I think we have that confirmed. As of this writing, though, they could still opt to make this their 8 hour stop. We'll have a better idea soon enough.
Wait - how's that work again? Recall mushers have to take a 24 hour rest and an 8 hour rest along certain sections of trail, and a final mandatory 8hr at Skwentna - south before the final run to the finish line. When and where mushers opt to take these rests is a big part of race strategy. You'll notice the race standings jockey around a lot while mushers take these breaks differently. Right now, several mushers in the top 20 have checked off their 8 hour rest. Only one, Rick Casillo, has thus far completed his 24. He's at the back of the pack right now, but keep in mind he'll still be racing later when those in the top 20 have to stop and take their 24s. How many he blows by will help determine if his strategy was a good one or not. Often we won't know until late in the race how these decisions shook out across teams, not until after the majority of mushers have completed both their variable-choice 24 and 8 hour rests.
And by race rules this year, that will be after the Rohn - south checkpoint on the return. Mushers have to take their 24 between or including Skwentna - north and Iditarod - north (before the Flat loop), and their 8hr some time between or in Rohn - north and Rohn - south. It will be very interesting to watch how all of this shakes out.
For the time being, we have Brent Sass reported in first (no completed required rests yet) and out of Ophir (mile 352) just before 4:30am. Ryan Redington and Aaron Burmeister were both reported into Ophir, and they've both satisfied their 8hr. Several other mushers are closing in on this checkpoint, some with completed 8s and some without.
Whether mushers have opted to rest or keep running, here is a good synopsis of recent and near term weather conditions. Looks like they'll be putting on their best cold gear soon, and keeping it on for a while.
Starting tonight into Wednesday, clouds will slowly clear as colder and drier air filters into the region. Temperatures along the trail will dip into the teens tonight, with even colder conditions expected through the day Wednesday and Thursday. By Thursday and into the end of the week, many locations along the trail will feature highs near 0 and subzero values likely as low as 30-below.