It is now 85° warmer on the Yukon River than it was earlier this week when the teams were headed towards Nome. I am sure the guys are not missing the -50° but of course +35° comes with its own challenges.
With 342 river miles left before the finish line in Fairbanks the racers will encounter a trail of sticky snow and more than likely sections of what is called ‘jumble ice’. While large sections of the rivers can freeze smoothly there are also many stretches were the teams will have to deal huge chucks of protruding ice along with open leads of water.
What is also a potential hazard while running the rivers is that you can be scooting along 80 to 90 MPH and suddenly there is an ice ridge or the ever present piece of driftwood hiding under a coat of snow ready to take out the suspensions of the sleds.
The top teams are now taking a 10 hour layover in Galena before running 172 miles up the mighty Yukon to Tanana. The teams will be held at this village of 250 people until Saturday morning before being released to ensure a daylight finish in Fairbanks. From Tanana the course leaves the Yukon and runs up the Tanana River past Manley Hot Springs and Nenana. Eventually they arrive at North Pole and take the Chena River to the finish line.
TnT (Team #8 of Tyler and Tyson) arrived in Galena 24 minutes ahead of Cory and Ryan of Team #41. Those two teams have been running very similar times since leaving Nome and have certainly separated themselves from the rest of the pack for now. It is going to be exciting to watch some of the best riders battle it out over this home stretch.
Tyson Johnson first ran the Iron Dog when he was 17 yrs. old and this year is his 19th race. His partner Tyler Aklestad has 14 Iron Dogs under his belt. They are hard core veterans who have seen it all and used that experience and skill to win this race last year. Their Skidoos have been flawless thus far and they are in a great position to be repeat champs.
Hot on their heels is the Arctic Cat duo of Cory Davis and Ryan Simons. Cory’s father, Scott Davis, is a 7 time Iron Dog champ so obviously Cory has been around the Iron Dog his whole life. Both he and Ryan are extremely talented riders who have gained national notoriety with numerous X-Games medals between them along with many wins and championships on the USXC and USCC circuits in the lower 48. Ryan is from Alberta, Canada and I don’t think a non-Alaskan has ever won this race. Cory is running his 5th Iron Dog and this is Ryan’s fourth attempt. If the race was based simply on riding ability these guys would be hard to beat. But the Iron Dog is also all about strategy, weather, navigation, wrenching, team work, endurance, toughness and much more.
Yesterday was a wild one for the race with the blizzard along the coast causing poor visibility resulting in a lot of crashes and damaged suspensions. Flights out of Nome were cancelled and the inability of pilots to reach villages to bring fresh parts also played a factor. For example when Nick Olstad of Team #16 wiped out his front suspension he would normally have his pilot with a plane full of parts waiting at the next checkpoint. Instead they lost a significant amount of time. It would have been much worse if not for the resourcefulness of the fans and fellow racers. Teams may accept parts from locals as long as it is monitored in a checkpoint by officials. And who would have thought that Team #16 would find 2017 AXYS parts in the tiny village of Shaktoolik! Sometimes luck plays into this race as well.
Team #17 of Chad Gueco and Dusty VanMeter came into Nome in 7th place but after wrenching adjustments they left Nome in 6th place. Unlike most of their competitors they had a fantastic ride through the storm and are now sitting in 3rd place in Galena.
Kolin Smith created this meme from a Heather Tuckness Sottosanti photo.
Harley Huntington took this video of Cory Davis as he refueled in Koyuk yesterday. Just 50 miles from Koyuk they came upon Team #16 all wadded up on the trail. Team #41 stopped and helped them get sorted out and made sure they were ok. Here is Cory at the next fuel stop.
Fisher Dill captured this cool video clip of Team 17 coming into Unalakleet yesterday.
It’s been snowing and blowing all across Interior Alaska the last two days and it could play a deciding factor especially between the top two teams. From Ruby to Tanana is the longest stretch on the trail with no checkpoint for 120 miles. This is complicated further by the fresh snow which will cause the sleds to burn more fuel between the two stops.
Racers are allowed to get fuel from their pilots, who either land or air drop it. If flying weather isn’t good today, then the racers will have to find someone from Tanana to haul some fuel back to them. Without extra fuel there is little chance the leaders will be able to make it the entire 120 miles on their 15 gallons of fuel. This 120 mile stretch is the only place on the trail where the racers can receive outside help from someone not in this race.
The report is that from Ruby to Tanana the trail is not yet broken, but that Arnold Marks Jr. has left Tanana with fuel and is headed towards Ruby. Team #8, Aklestad/Johnson, have a 24 minute lead over Davis/Simons, BUT they will be breaking trail for Team #41 who will burn less fuel and likely be a bit quicker. This is going to get interesting to see how it unfolds. I’m sure the engineers and technicians in Minneapolis and Valcourt are on pins and needles!
We have received word that the father/son from Maine, Team #31, has officially scratched in Unalakleet. Word is that Tim had gnarly a crash and has suffered a concussion. He’s OK at this point. Helmet not so much. He was taken care of at the clinic and is in good condition.
Here is a photo of Tim and Remington Lessard at the starting line in Anchorage.
I don’t have any details at this point but it looks like Team #19 of Harold Attla and Archie Beetus have scratched in Kaltag. So we now have 19 teams that have scratched and 16 teams left in the race. It is hard to overstate how tough this race is on men and machines.
***It looks like something is up with Team #41. They went on the clock 30 minutes ago but haven’t left Galena yet. Meanwhile Team #8 is through Ruby and making good time toward Tanana. Everyone will hold up in Tanana tonight and race to the finish line tomorrow.
***Looks like Team #41 damaged both of their rear suspensions on the way to Galena. Had to switch out two shafts. They could have hit the ice shelf 4 miles before Galena that many of the other teams crashed on last night. It appears Team #8 has a 80 minute lead on the #41’s as it now stands.
The top two teams are being held over in Tanana before being released to the finish line tomorrow. TnT of Team #8 checked in 74 minutes ahead of Davis/Simons who had to fix both rear suspensions before leaving Galena.
And here are some details concerning Team #19’s scratch: ‘Information released by family: Harold Attla has been flown to Fairbanks with a concussion. He also has lacerations on his back and legs from studs. He is in good condition. He crashed in front of Nulato and was taken directly to the clinic.” Prayers that he will be OK and fully recover.
Gueco and VanMeter are solidly in 3rd place at this point having checked out of Ruby at 16:02. Team #49 ‘The Sons of Thunder” left Ruby 31 minutes later interestingly they are the only Polaris team in the top 6. Right behind them, leaving just 6 minutes later is Team #28 of Gundersen/Norum.
Carole Huntington’s photo shows Team #17 getting fuel halfway between Ruby and Tanana at Kokrine Hills Bible Camp.