I do want to take this opportunity to thank those of you who tolerate - or even enjoy! - my musings for the sake of keeping close tabs on my sisters while they're out on the trail. Family, friends, kids working on school projects, folks from all walks of life and all parts of the world... It's actually quite humbling to know so many people are cheering Kristy and Anna on, and I have the honor of being their voice for a short time. I'm immensely proud of my sisters and equally grateful for all the support they have out there. So thank you. And I mean that.
Enough sentimental blather! Back to the race!
As I'm sure you all already know, we have a winner in the 45th running of the Iditarod! And what a winner... after a nearly unfathomable 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes, and 13 seconds on the trail - 979 race miles from Fairbanks to Nome - Mitch Seavey and his remaining 11 dogs pulled under the burled arch at 3:40pm Alaska time on Tuesday afternoon. To win a race like this is an impressive accomplishment... to do so with the fastest time ever AND as the oldest musher (at 57) to ever win? I can't even come up with the right adjective to describe it. And he didn't just squeeze by with the fastest time ever ~ he basically crushed it... by a solid 8 hours. Maybe some will try to attribute this to the weather reroute from Fairbanks this year, but I don't think that's fair. After all, when his son Dallas won this race in 2015, the last time the reroute was used, he needed 8 days 18 hours and change to accomplish this feat. And Mitch trounced that time handily.
To what do I attribute his win? Skill, experience, legacy, and luck. Ok, mostly his dog team, and then the aforementioned. The man's got skills... you might think these mushers just stand on the runners and come what may, but driving a dog sled is no easy task. Balancing the needs of your dog team against your own, battling the terrain and the elements, devising a strategy that will not only get you to Nome, but hopefully do so faster than others... that's a skill. Experience? This is Mitch's 24th running of the Iditarod, having first appeared in 1982 and then running every year from 1995 until today. Legacy? His father, Dan, ran in the very first Iditarod in 1973 (back when it took over 20 days to finish the race) and competed in a total of 5 Iditarods. Not to mention Mitch's son, Dallas, who first competed in 2005 and has just completed his 11th Iditarod. And while I get the impression family competition, and thus a bit of secrecy, is alive and well here, I don't doubt for a second that mushing tales were told over family dinners. Finally, one mustn't discount Lady Luck... I don't want to give her too much credit, but she's a formidable adversary. Be it random weather changes or your dog team not catching a stomach bug that seems to be plaguing everyone else, I think we can all agree that sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
And what about Mitch's dog team? To have made it that far, that fast, and only drop 5 dogs? Years of breeding, months of training, an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, knowing when to run and when to make them rest... it's an art as much as a science. I encourage you to check out this ADN.com article and watch the embedded video clip. You can see how he gets choked up talking about his amazing canine athletes and how he would probably rather be caring for them than in the lime-light. Do I think he pushed them too hard to accomplish what they did? No. A musher is nothing without his or her dog team, and I think Mitch simply managed to put together some of the most amazing canine athletes this sport has ever seen. Imagine having a basketball team consisting of nothing but LeBron James and Michael Jordan stunt-doubles. I think he managed just that.
Are we on the verge of a new era is dog sled racing? Quite likely yes.
And what of the other mushers on the trail? As of this writing, we have 16 finishers into Nome. While they all deserve mad props, I want to make special mention of the two ladies finishing in the top 10, Jessie Royer (5th) and Aliy Zirkle (8th). Jessie even finished the race with all 16 dogs on the line, something I cannot remember seeing in the time I've been following the race. Her dog(wo)manship, if you will, is certainly top notch. Another thing I cannot recall seeing? So few scratches. The race isn't over, mind you, but teams are making great progress and we still only have 6 of the original 72 teams bowing out. Perhaps the frigid cold of the first portion of the race is a slightly less formidable adversary than the Dalzell Gorge, Happy River Steps, and Farwell Burn that are usually tackled by teams mushing over the Alaska Range on the traditional route. I'll have to ask the twins about that.
This brings me, of course, to my favorite topic... Kristy and Anna. My last update had them into Shaktoolik, race mile 758, a little after 10am on Tuesday. They took a rest of just over 6 hours here before pulling out at 4:20pm Tuesday afternoon. Neither twin dropped any dogs, leaving Kristy with 12 on the line and Anna with 9. They spent 5 hours 20 minutes covering the 50 miles to Koyuk, pulling into this checkpoint before midnight. After a 5 1/2 hour rest, they pulled their snowhooks, again without dropping any dogs, and hit the trail for the next 48 mile run to Elim. After about 6 hours on the trail, they arrived at the checkpoint of Elim (race mile 856) just after 9am Wednesday morning. They rested for less than 5 hours here, each dropped a dog, and hit the trail again just before 2pm Wednesday afternoon.
Anna was reported in 40th place out of Elim with 8 dogs on the line, Kristy in 41st with 11 dogs. They have a 28 mile run to Golovin, which is noted on the race map but isn't an official checkpoint and thus does not have vets, facilities, or drop bags of supplies waiting for them. I expect them to mush straight on to White Mountain (18 miles further along the trail), where they will take their final mandatory 8-hour rest before the final 55 mile push to Safety and 22 miles from there to Nome.
My sisters might not appreciate my sharing this, but I will anyway... I did get a text from Anna last night and she admitted "it's been a rough one." I know dropping the number of dogs she did early in the race would be weighing on her, and she's almost certainly been pushing herself to the extreme to take any extra burden she can off the remaining dogs. This means hopping off the sled and running, pedaling and ski-poling like a maniac, and probably depriving herself of rest at checkpoints to give extra TLC to her dogs. I can only surmise this takes both a physical and emotional toll, leaving one more susceptible to self-doubt and discouragement. But Anna and Kristy are running together, and if there is one thing I know for certain, when one gets down, the other picks her up. And vice versa. I know there have been times on this race where Anna was the encouraging force, and times where Kristy played that role. To have a best friend and sister by your side for an adventure like this, someone who easily knows you as intimately as you know yourself, is a force to be reckoned with. Also, courtesy of another text via the family grapevine, I know it's working. The twins apparently had a really good run over the sea ice, downright fun at times, perking up their spirits and giving them an extra boost as they head towards Nome.
This brings me to (drumroll please) my prediction of when the twins will reach Nome. I'm calling for 6pm Eastern / 2pm Alaska time on Thursday. They're currently at race mile 887 per the GPS trackers (as of this writing). If they can maintain their current 8.4mph pace, they should be in to White Mountain by 8pm Alaska time. They have their 8-hour rest, and should pull out of WM by 4am Alaska time Thursday morning. With 77 miles to mush at that point, if they can maintain an 8mph pace, they will need about 9 1/2 hours to reach Nome. If I've managed to do my math right and account for the 4-hour difference in our time zones without error (yes, your Mad Blogger is a little tired, too...) - yes. 2pm Alaska time on Thursday it is.
Keep a close eye on those GPS trackers, though, because I underestimated Mitch's speed and arrival time by nearly an hour and a half in the last update, so obviously I'm a little off my game this year. But, if I'm right (and even if I'm wrong by an hour or two), it looks like the twins are on track to achieve a new personal best finish time in this year's Iditarod. Not too shabby!!
In any event, stay tuned! I will continue to update the blog until the last musher is off the trail. With any luck, the twins will feel up to a phone call upon reaching the finish, so I should have a blog update with their immediate impressions of the race just completed. And while I hate to wrap up this entry on a sad note, there have been a few dog deaths on the trail this year, and I've been hard at work on this year's Dog Blog to discuss what happened. I normally post a Special Edition on the dogs earlier in the race, but I've been researching this one particularly hard and giving it a great deal of thought. It's a topic that is near and dear to not only my heart, but the twins' and I'm sure most of our readers, so that promises a blog entry worth checking back on.
In the meantime, watch those GPS trackers. Check the blog. Hug someone you love, particularly if he or she is furry, and send good vibes to all the mushers still out on the trail.
Oh, and enjoy a few more pictures that I found. The ones of the twins are mostly from earlier in the race, but still good ones! And a few of other mushers to give you a taste of what the twins have in store.