Two more mushers have scratched from the race, including crowd favorite Jamaican Newton Marshall, leaving 62 teams on the trail. A breaking news post indicated Newton had a dog break lose and is lost out on the trail. Yikes! I will post any updates I see on this, as a lost dog is of concern to all. Martin Buser utilized his early 24hr break to cover trail later and has pulled into 1st place. Both he and Aliy Zirkle are reported out of the checkpoint of Iditarod (race mile 432), both with 14 dogs in harness. Our friend Paul Gebhardt was last reported into Iditarod in 14th place and with 14 dogs in harness. 4-time Iditarod champ Lance Mackey was the first musher into the checkpoint of Iditarod, claiming the $3,000 "halfway" prize. He was last reported in 4th place.
Per the race sponsored GPS trackers, the twins are near race mile 340, and it is an unbelievably warm 45 degrees F. Given how accustomed most of these mushers are to extremely cold temps, I half expect them to be on the sleds in shorts and t-shirts! We'll see if any trailside pictures support my suspicions. In the interests of thoroughness, I've noticed a bit of a discrepancy between the Iditarod website's record of checkpoint "race miles" and those being reported by the GPS trackers. As the GPS trackers began counting in Willow at the restart, they don't seem to capture the 11-ish mile run during the ceremonial start. So if some of my race mile references seem off or contradictory, add or subtract 11 miles as appropriate (yes, I know... I'm too detail oriented for my own good).
It sounds like temps will continue to be on the mild side. There was some snow in Takotna, and there is a brief article about a small Iditarod-related airplane that flipped over and crashed on departure (the plane was a mess but fortunately the two occupants are reported uninjured). Makes me wonder if the winds also picked up. The trail the twins experienced between Takotna and Ophir was likely fairly tame, with proximity to creeks and rivers (also making me wonder, paired with the warm temps, if they encountered any open water). Ophir is quoted by veteran racer Donald Bowers, Jr., as "your last vestige of civilization for a very long while" and even that checkpoint consists of little more than a privately owned cabin. Some reports are calling for RAIN as mushers get past Shageluk and start up the Yukon River portion of the trail. Last year, I worried about frost bite with -50F, now I'm worrying about overheating dogs in +40F. Good grief! Mother Nature sure keeps a poor blogger on her paws.
The stretch of trail the twins are currently on from Ophir to Iditarod is appx 80 miles and should take them 10-12 hours including a rest stop. I expect they'll take their rest at Don's Cabin, an allegedly "ramshackle plywood hut" about 36 miles outside of Ophir. Given the long run from Ophir to Iditarod, they'll likely take another good rest in Iditarod before tackling the hilly terrain that separates them from Shageluk.
Before signing off on this posting, I strongly encourage interested readers to visit the photo albums on the Anchorage Daily News site, the Alaska Dispatch site, as well as the Iditarod Photo Gallery. The pictures posted by the talented photographers on these sites do a lot more justice to the beauty of Alaska and the challenges faced by the mushers and their dogs than my rambling ever will.
Please click on the photos below to enlarge and read the captions.