I am neither concerned nor surprised by the fact that they have dropped one dog at this point. This first section of trail has been hard, fast, and warm which can easily cause problems with dehydration and overheating as well as shoulder or wrist problems. With regard to the latter, think about the anatomy of a dog... their legs are designed to go forward and backward. Icy conditions can sometimes cause one of their legs to shoot out sideways, and dogs just aren't designed to do the splits. That kind of move can strain shoulder muscles, and I know the twins would much rather leave a dog safely behind at a checkpoint than risk pressing on, especially given some of the highly technical portions of trail coming up.
Although I was traveling during much of the race to this point and not glued to the GPS tracker, I have a pretty good idea of what the race was like for them so far. After pulling out of Willow, they likely tried to keep a slower pace as the afternoon sun finally turned to dusk and they worked to cover the 42 miles to Yentna Station checkpoint. Their sleds were fully loaded pulling out of Willow, so there were no drop bags waiting for them in Yentna. They spent about 5 minutes grabbing straw and Heet (the flammable liquid in the yellow bottles that they carry with them to fuel their portable cookers for boiling water and thawing food on the trail). I also suspect they stopped to camp for a few hours outside of Yentna.
The next checkpoint of Skwentna was also a brief, 5 minute stop... just long enough to load up on lots of dog food from drop bags and hit the trail again. While the next checkpoint of Finger Lake is a sanctioned dog drop, it is not a drop bag location, so the twins would have loaded up in Skwentna to make sure they had adequate provisions to cover the 70 miles before the next drop bag checkpoint.
They took a 3 1/2 hour break in Finger Lake, both to rest up the dogs for the section of trail ahead, and also to make sure they timed the remaining daylight right to cover the next 30 miles between Finger Lake and Rainy Pass. This section of trail contains the notorious Happy River steps. Iditarod veteran Donald Bowers Jr. offers the following description of the steps on the Iditarod's site:
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.
Sounds intense, right? And with precious little snow on the trail this year to facilitate braking, I can imagine it was one hairy ride. We can breath a sigh of relief knowing that is now behind the twins.
As it took the twins and their dogs about 3 1/2 hours to cover that section of trail, I suspect they'll camp for a bit in, or just after, Rainy Pass. Recall last year Anna had a nasty encounter with a vindictive tree stump just outside of Rainy Pass that did some serious damage to her sled. In fact, she gave a quick interview during this year's restart talking about her sled and the expanded repair kit she now considers a must-have (you can find it on the Iditarod website). Kristy and Anna will also face the dreaded Dalzell Gorge just before they hit the next checkpoint of Rohn. More details on that in our next race update...
The 2 current leaders in the race have recently pulled out of Rohn, and another 7 teams are into Rohn. We have also seen our first team scratch from the race. Veteran Cindy Gallea pulled out in Skwentna, although I do not yet see why. Regardless, we wish her and her dogs a very safe journey back to their home kennel.