The effects of COVID-19 continue to spread, literally and figuratively. With widespread cancellations in everything from professional sports to concerts, school events and public gatherings, even one's ability to travel in certain parts of the world, the Iditarod as the Last Great Race may really be one of the last races still going on right now.
Mushers seem to have been largely isolated from the news until fairly recently. Musher Jeremy Keller's departure from the race was soon followed by the city of Nome's understandable cancellation of post-race festivities. And now mushers are going to feel the impacts more directly as the remaining checkpoints in the race also make adjustments.
The checkpoint of Shaktoolik first hit the newswires with the decision to move the checkpoint to "Old Shak", an adjustment of a couple miles in distance and making it a restocking point only with no race personnel. The Bering Strait School District is no longer giving mushers and visitors access to village schools to help protect villagers, mushers, and race personnel. This means access to the traditionally used indoor spots in the checkpoints of Unalakleet all the way through White Mountain are not available this year. Nulato also announced there will be no village access and no indoor access overnight for mushers, but they will still be fully stocked with respect to checkers, vets, a race judge, and supplies (drop bags, HEET, and straw).
This all amounts to a lot more wilderness camping than expected this year for mushers, and probably more than any of them have seen, at least in recent years.
Add to these changes in checkpoint accommodations continued winter storm warnings, and it's no surprise many mushers are probably adjusting their plans on the fly out there. The twins are no exception.
We last left Kristy and Anna camped out in Cripple after arriving there early Friday morning. They remained in checkpoint for about five and a quarter hours and Anna returned one dog before they both hit the trail just after 10:30am. Anna is mushing 10 dogs in front of her sled, Kristy 12 dogs. They initially hadn't planned to camp along the 70 or so miles to Ruby, but it turns out they did stop for a few hours, giving them a total time out on this stretch of trail of nearly 13 1/2 hours. And instead of declaring and taking their 8hr rest in Ruby, mile 495, as planned, they only rested here for 5 1/2 hours. Clearly they've decided to take their 8hr at one of the next 3 checkpoints.
Whatever is driving their decisions right now, they arrived in Ruby just after midnight and were back on their sleds at 5:30am Saturday morning. No dogs were returned in Ruby, leaving Kristy and Anna still with 12 dogs 10 dogs, respectively. It's about 50 miles from Ruby to Galena, at which point they'll be 545 miles into the race and looking at 430 miles left on their trek to Nome.
We did have two more mushers scratch from the race, Nils Hahn and Alan Eischens, leaving 53 of the original 57 teams off the start still on the way to Nome. Brent Sass has captured the lead from Jessie Royer and he's out of Nulato running 13 dogs. Jessie Royer is in Nulato (mile 582) along with 5 other mushers. I only see 3 of the top 10 completing their 8hr rests as of this writing, although a number are likely doing so now in this checkpoint. The rest of the top 20 are all at least into, if not already out of, Galena. The back of the pack is reported out of Ophir. GPS currently puts the spread between our leader at mile 592 and the rookies in the rear at mile 390 at just over 200 miles.
Anna and Kristy continue to travel together, and I've noticed friend Tom Knolmayer isn't too far behind them and they would all have spent time together during rests. Earlier in the race, I ran across a report that said Tom suffered some frostbite to his eyes somewhere in or around Rainy Pass, so I'm very happy to see he's not only feeling well enough to continue the race, but has been doing it in close proximity to the twins. They're all continuing to face gnarly weather, with storm warnings through 6pm Sunday, 3-6 inches of snow in their immediate future over the day Saturday, and increasing winds getting up to 20-25mph with blowing snow as they get closer to Kaltag.
On the other side of the spectrum? Things apparently got a little too hot for Jessie Royer out there when her sled caught on fire! Something to do with trail trash she had collected to dispose of and a warm bottle of HEET? Anyway, the damage was minimal and fixable, but still quite startling. An interesting tail from a top contender in this year's contest.
As we wait to see what the weather does and where Seeing Double ultimately takes their 8hr break, check out this interesting article from ADN.com on the twins, how togetherness impacts competitiveness, and what it means to run a kennel together.