Written by Marty Moffat
Alaska has just had one of the mildest winters in recent memory, yet during the 10 days of Iditarod 2015 it decides to revert back to its true-to-form self. With temps hovering around 40 below zero, Dee Dee Jonrowe froze her hands on her way into Huslia. She said it is the most severe frostbite of her long racing career, and many of you have been reading about 4-time champion Lance Mackey’s battle with the cold due to Raynauds disease forcing him to make an emotional decision that this will likely be his last Iditarod sled dog race. Simple tasks take much longer to perform in this cold and taking one’s gloves or mittens off for a few seconds makes it very difficult to warm your hands back up. For the mushers, the deep freeze is relentless, cumulative, and energy draining. Ol’ Sam McGee of Robert Service fame stated, “It’s the cursed cold, and its got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.”
Yet foul or fair the race pushes on with the front-runners back on the mighty Yukon river with their sights set on Nulato and Kaltag. Denali Park musher, Jeff King, is currently resting in Koyukuk while Aliy Zirkle blew through the checkpoint in four minutes. Race observer Bruce Lee said Aliy’s team looked very strong and energetic. Just over an hour later Mitch Seavey made an appearance as well. Jeff has completed both of his required layovers and Aliy and Mitch both need to take a mandatory 8 hour R&R. Well its rest and relaxation for the dogs; but with dog care and a host of details to attend to, the mushers don’t get much rest. At this time of writing, Mitch has declared his 8 hour layover in Koyukuk and Aliy most likely will take her’s a Nulato.
With that said, for all practical purposes, Jeff is our leader on day 6. Jeff is very happy with the condition and attitude of his team; stating in Huslia that this is the best he has ever seen his team at this stage of the race. The dogs are eating well, have plenty of speed, no orthopedic issues and showing continuity. Impressively both Jeff and Aliy have all 16 dogs they started began the race with. However, with over 400 miles to complete, along with the notoriously unpredictable coastal weather ahead, it is way too early to start declaring a winner. I would venture to say that Dallas Seavey may be among Jeff’s stiffest competition, right along with Aliy, at this point. The 26 year old former Olympic wrestler from Willow is also very happy with his team and freshly off his 24 hour layover. He just now is reported into Koyukuk and took almost 2 hours longer than Jeff to cover that section of trail. His GPS tracker showed him trotting along at 9.4 mph coming into Koyukuk; that is very speedy after this many miles. Observers say that he never runs under 8 mph, and if the dogs begin to slow, he stops to rest. His team runs faster, but rest more often. This race is certainly more akin to chess than checkers
Two rookies, one from Canada and the other from Scandinavia, are solidly in the top ten. That is quite remarkable when you consider the amount of talent and experience represented in the current roster of mushers. Jason Campeau is a former professional hockey player from Calgary and Thomas Waerner of Torpa, Norway who we referenced in previous updates, is a rookie to the Iditarod but certainly not to competitive dog mushing. It will be interesting to follow their progress as things are really going to heat up from here to Nome.
Once we hit the coast at Unalakleet it is going to be much easier to really determine who may be in control of this race. All the layovers will be served and with over 700 miles behind them, the teams that are strongest and have the most in reserve will become more apparent.
As I sign off for now, Aliy is just reporting into Nulato. She covered the 22 miles 2 hours and 29 minutes, averaging almost 9 mph..that is moving! She is probably going to take her 8 hour layover at that checkpoint. With that kind of speed and and all 16 dogs in harness could this be the year the 3 time runner up gets the coveted title of Iditarod Champ? Stay tuned!