Written by Marty Moffat
It’s day three and the front-runners are camped out in one of my favorite spots on earth! At mile 291 (64 miles down river from Tanana) is Kokrine Hills Bible Camp, where I spent many happy and carefree summers as a boy. Kokrines was once a trading post and native village on the north bank of the Yukon but after WWII most of the residents relocated to the gold rush town of Ruby, another 55 miles downstream. Back in the early 1900’s Kokrines was one of the telegraph stations between Tanana and Nulato. In fact we used to have a grand time hunting and collecting for old glass telephone pole insulators.
I am not sure where my considerable stash ended up but I see people are paying upwards of $10 to $20 apiece for them on Ebay….I never did have the vision of a Gates or a Trump, but I digress.
Back to the main event. It’s cold! There are reports of -20 to -30 and on the river itself it’s probably even lower, although the mushers and dogs can take that in stride. As long as the dreaded upriver wind doesn’t raise its ugly head, everyone generally stays pretty happy. Aliy Zirkle left Tanana in first position and is the only leading musher to still have all 16 dogs in harness. Aaron Burmeister followed her onto the wide expanse of ice just 8 minutes later. Next to leave Tanana for the 119 mile traverse to the next checkpoint of Ruby was Martin Buser. He left 50 minutes after Aaron but had the distinct advantage of having completed his 8 hour layover. Dallas Seavey, two time champ, was hot on Martin’s heels 9 minutes after.
I was disappointed to hear that Brent Sass of Eureka, Alaska, was disqualified for inadvertently carrying some cutting edge technology while utilizing age-old transportation. The rules of the Iditarod prohibit any two way communications devices and Brent had an iPod touch that could have been employed with Wi-Fi at some checkpoints. Brent just won the Yukon Quest last month and was among the leading pack of mushers into Tanana so it is a bummer that an unintentional oversight has such severe consequences….it wasn’t like he had a private email server or anything! However, rules are rules and he has responded very graciously, not ‘sassing’ the officials at all…a class-act. When one considers the huge investment of time and capital that goes into a highly competitive Iditarod team being disqualified for an iPod touch causes some to wonder if the punishment fits the crime.
Dog care continues to evolve along with everything else. Sebastian Schnuelle, a Canadian musher who this year is following by snowmachine, gives insight into how knowledgeable todays mushers are. One of the dangers of a hard fast trail with a large percentage of it on river ice is problems with the dogs wrists…or should I say ankles? Stepping into cracks in the ice is an ever present danger and mushers are keeping a sharp eye out for such injuries. Sebastian reports, “there are 3 main massage lineaments mushers are using-Algyval for joints, Zalox for muscles and some people use Emu Oil instead of Algyval as well. A few even make their own…” It can take some time to massage four joints on each dog, times 15 dogs…well you get the idea. But the teams that are healthiest and happiest 800-900 miles into the race tend to run the fastest.
More later as we see what order these teams arrive into Ruby. This is the first checkpoint that is somewhat used to having the Iditarod passing through their village as it is on the Northern route run on alternate years.