As Thursday morning dawns in Alaska and teams head into their 4th full day on the Iditarod trail, we still have 81 of the original 85 starting teams mushing their way to Nome. Of the 4 scratched teams, I believe one may have been due to the musher fearing a broken rib. Whatever the causes, we wish all the mushers and dogs safe and swift travels to their home kennels.
Of the teams remaining, Jeff King, a 4-time Iditarod champion, was last reported in first place and pulled out of Cripple (race mile 425) with all 16 dogs in harness a little after 3am. He has yet to declare and take his 24, though, so keep that in mind. A half dozen other mushers are into Cripple, while the twenty teams hot on their heels are all out of the prior checkpoint of Ophir and have completed their 24s. Look for positioning to smooth out a bit over the next day as more and more teams complete this mandatory rest and hit the trail again. Meanwhile, the mushers furthest back in the pack are into Nikolai, some 160 miles behind the leaders.
When teams reach Nikolai, the portion of trail requiring the most technical sled driving skills will be behind them. After that point, the trail will smooth out and, while some icy sections are being reported, teams will get a reprieve from the handle-bar-gripping experiences they've had thus far. This also the point many teams switch from 'survival' mode to 'racing' mode. But, many mushers claim that positioning doesn't really start to count until mushers reach Kaltag, though, so I wouldn't bet the sled on this year's winner. At least, not yet. There is also the weather wildcard. A quick glance at the Iditarod Weather Center shows mostly clear skies, a smattering of snow here and there, low winds, and mild temps from 0F to the mid-teens. But this is Alaska... that can change, and change fast.
Here are some other interesting tidbits I've stumbled across...
- Seeing Double-Double?! Apparently Nicholas Petit is running a team of dogs this year that includes several from a litter named after fellow mushers. Among those on the trail this year? His dogs Kristy and Anna!
- Who let the dogs out? There have been at least two reports of dog teams that got away from their mushers and were loose on the trail, but they have since been found and reunited with their human.
- Ouch... Musher Matthew Failor ended up needing 5 stitches and declared his 24 early after a knife he was using slipped and plunged into his leg just above the kneecap. He hasn't scratched yet!
- Bruised but not broken... although some mushers were coming in off the Farwell Burn between Rohn and Nikolai with sleds a little worse for wear, most reports indicate that 2014 was still a far more brutal year on this stretch.
- Best. Pie. Ever! Mushers taking their 24 in Takotna will enjoy a few luxuries, including burgers or breakfast, hot off the griddle; the area's famous pies; a shower if they want it; and some desperately needed sleep.
- Cooke nearly gets cooked... Musher Rob Cooke had a bit of a close call out on the trail his cooker burst, singing some hair and his jacket. But aside from some surface singing, he escaped unscathed.
- Unusual chase in the race... Lance Mackey was reported as having to give chase to some buffalo on the Farwell Burn trail between Rohn and Nikolai.
- "I was blind, but I still pull!" Kelly Maixner has a dog on his team with a condition that has led to blindness. But apparently you don't need to see to pull, which this visually impaired dog is doing as he makes his third run to Nome.
- Seeing things that aren't even there... Katherine Keith decided to declare her 24 a little earlier than planned when she realized out on the trail some of the fans and other mushers she was glimpsing in her periphery weren't even there. Hallucinations as a result of sleep deprivation are not uncommon.
- Or seeing ghosts? At least one musher is transporting some of a late friend's ashes from Anchorage to Nome.
- Return to Sender. Remember all the fuss that was made over the 300+ cubic yards of snow being brought by railroad from Fairbanks to Anchorage for the ceremonial start? Turns out they didn't even use it! Apparently the Fairbanks snow had some rocks and debris in it that was of concern to dog paws and they ended up having enough of the white stuff from Anchorage's own supply.
And with that, I'll wrap up Race Update 3. When the twins are back on the trail, look for them to make a hard fast run to Ophir with only a brief stop in that checkpoint to grab straw and supplies. Their plan at the outset was to camp between Ophir and Cripple at Carlson Cabin (aka Bureau of Land Management - 4). After Cripple, their run on the Yukon River will begin.
Enjoy a bunch of pictures of the twins from their time in McGrath and Takotna, thanks to KTUU.com, Alaska News 2.