Having just pulled their hooks and hit the trail out of Ruby, Kristy had reception long enough to lob in a quick call. It was 4:15pm, and Mother Nature was finally giving them a little break from the frigid cold. It was -2F (-18.9C) and Kristy said it felt above zero... she was only sporting a lighter jacket and gloves. Overnight on the trail, they saw -48F and Kristy described how it is impossible to sleep while camping trailside, always shivering yourself awake. But they saw some pretty cool northern lights and overall the trail has been great. The snow alongside the marked trail, which itself is only 1 to 2 snowmobile tracks wide, was deep, continuing to make passing or pulling over a challenge. And if you tried, the dogs were often just wallowing chest deep in the powder. The deep snow also made setting hooks to park teams tricky. In fact, the twins were stopped at one point when they heard a shout, and along came a loose team. They managed to catch it as the grateful musher came rushing behind.
Anna and Kristy haven't been without their own trials. Kristy was mushing along when her sled went over an abandoned snowhook (the aggressive metal anchors carried by mushers to secure a parked team), slicing open her sled bag. Imagine pulling out your needle and thread in -47F to repair that! Anna is also having problems with her sled, but she isn't carrying long enough bolts or the right size wrench to fully repair the loose cross members on the fly. But it's holding together and she's limping it along, thankful this year doesn't involve a trip down the Gorge! Both twins are therefore also looking forward to reaching Galena where they have each shipped out their permitted second sleds. More than that, they're looking forward to Galena because that is where they plan to declare and take their 24 hour stop.
I also got an update on the dogs. As we already knew, Anna had dropped Pilot in Manley for a sore pectoral muscle. I now know that Anna also dropped Bogus, Bootleg, and Dozer. Kristy dropped Bulleit. Why? All of these "puppies" (yearlings on the team) presented with wrist problems, and the twins didn't want to risk causing longer term harm by pushing things too far. Anvik, on Kristy's team, also seemed to come down with a stomach bug. But it has cleared up in 24 hours and that big strong boy is eating well and raring to go, so at least that is proving to be a temporary thing. The dropped dogs will all be carefully flown by the Iditarod Air Force back to Anchorage, where they will be picked up and taken back to the kennel.
Kristy wrapped things up by saying that, despite the aforementioned, they're having a good time out there. They're both hoping they and their dogs can rest well over their 24 hour in Galena, leaving them in good shape to step up a few spots in the ranks. Time will tell, and there's a lot of race left. I could hear an airplane flying overhead and the slight whisper of a breeze as her team moved along, and I wished her and Anna safety and dog speed, and we hung up.
Ok, so I know there are a lot of mixed feelings about the mushers carrying phones out there this year, but as far as I'm concerned? Whoopee!
So there you have it, straight from the musher's mouth, as Kristy and Anna pull out of Ruby - race mile 346 - Thursday afternoon. They were reported in 30th and 31st place, respectively, and neither dropped any dogs, leaving Kristy with 15 on the line and Anna with 12. They have a 50 mile run to Galena, and with improving temps and their 24 in site, I expect little stopping along the way.
Where does that leave the rest of the field? The leader, Mitch Seavey, was reported out of Galena earlier Thursday morning with all 16 dogs on the line. As of this writing, 5 other teams pulled out after him and 21 teams are resting in Galena. Remember, teams have already started to declare and take their 24s, so look for a lot of jockeying in the ranks over the next day or two. We still only have 2 scratched teams, leaving 70 mushers on the trail. The back of the pack is all reported out of Tanana.
Here are some shots from the trail, and I strongly encourage you to visit Jeff Schultz's photos on the Iditarod website. He captured two great ones of Kristy and one of Anna pulling into Ruby earlier today, as well as tons of awesome musher, dog, and scenery pictures.