Written by Marty Moffat
The water flows silently under the three feet of Tanana River ice. The current, however, could not begin to keep pace with the top mushers as they arrived into the town and checkpoint of Tanana after 3:00 this afternoon. Conditions are reported to be pretty much perfect–cold and clear with no wind. The trail so far has been hard and fast with no complaints of overflow. Martin Buser and his dogs love these conditions and if it holds for the next 7-8 days he would be hard to beat. His average speed from Manley Hot Springs to Tanana was a blistering 10.97 mph and upon arrival he indicated he would take his 8 hour layover there, but who knows if he really will as the cat and mouse game is in full swing.
I spent six of my boyhood years in Tanana during the ’60’s and have great memories of that community. Tanana sits on the northern bank of the Yukon River about a mile downstream from where the Tanana River dumps its grayish sandy waters into the clearer Yukon. In fact the local natives call this place Nuchalawoyya…where the two rivers meet. When I lived there, snowmahines were just starting to displace dog teams as the preferred mode of winter transportation. But many of the experienced mushers kept their dogs and entered races locally and across the state. Many of the top Iditarod breeds today can be traced back to dogs belonging to Erhart and Folger families. It was always a huge deal when the “Michael Jordans” and “Peyton Mannings” of my world showed up for the spring races. It was usually after dominating wins in the Anchorage Fur Rondy or the North American Championship in Fairbanks that our idol George Attla came to town with all the trappings and swagger of a rock star.
As of this writing 7 mushers are now in Tanana. Among them are Aliy and Dee Dee which I referenced yesterday. I see that Aliy has the second fastest time between Manley and Tanana at 10.08 mph. Aaron Burmeister of Nome is indicating that his canines may have picked up a bug and its affecting their appetites. If you can’t get fuel in the tank you’re not going very far, very fast.
I can’t help but notice all the smiles the mushers are wearing and how great all the teams and sleds look 227 miles into the race. When traveling the regular trail from Anchorage at this distance they would have crossed the Alaska Range and would be mostly through the Farewell Burn. Pictures of broken sleds and faces with cuts and bruises would have been the norm.
What is the winning strategy? Run fast and rest long? Or slow and steady with less down time? Speed or stamina? Its going to get interesting folks!