Thomas Waerner seems to have both talent and luck in spades this year, with the first place musher charging into White Mountain, mile 898, around 5:30am today. He was driving a team of 12 dogs on arrival and they'll all take their final 8 hour mandatory break before heading off on the final 77 miles to the finish. And it appears it is very much his race to lose at this point, with his closest competitor, Mitch Seavey, over 25 miles still to go to White Mountain. Nothing is certain in the Iditarod, though, until it actually happens. And 77 miles is still a long ways, especially when it's on top of the nearly 900 miles one has already traveled over the last 8 days and nearly 20 grueling hours on the trail.
Luck ran out in this year's race for three more mushers, with Iditarod veterans Larry Daugherty, Richie Diehl, and Aaron Peck all scratching since my last update. This brings the current scratch tally to 9 and leaving 48 mushers still actively racing. All three mushers indicated they were withdrawing in the best interests of their dogs and race team but reports didn't elaborate further. Of course I wish them all safe and swift travels to their home kennels.
I also regret to report that another major sponsor has scratched from the Iditarod, with Anchorage Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram announcing they are ending what I believe was a 30 year partnership with the race. Add this to Alaska Airlines and Jack Daniel's removing support, and the Iditarod Trail Committee and race organization will be facing some tough number crunching long after this year's mushers reach Nome.
Kristy and Anna have been spending their St. Patty's day so far resting in Unalakleet, having arrived in this first checkpoint on the coast, mile 714, a little after 5pm late Monday afternoon. They were out on the prior 85 mile stretch for over 17 hours, and while a chunk of that was spent camping, it will still have been exhausting. In fact, they've now been in Una for about 15 hours, so I know both they and their dogs required some extended down time to rest and assess.
I keep assessing the weather, and frankly - I don't like it. It's too warm, with daytime highs getting well into the 30s Fahrenheit (above 0 Celsius). Not ideal for the dogs, not good for trail conditions. I don't like the winds, currently east at a brisk 29mph. And while I'm trying to take some comfort from the fact that at least one article I read on KTVA.com didn't make a big deal about any weather, I really didn't like the Special Weather Statement for western Alaska. Not with so many teams, Seeing Double included, with so much trail along the coast to face.
I'll be back with updates as I see them.