2017 Iron Dog Race – Coverage Day 3 – Battling Towards Nome
Battling was the theme on the trail last night in the 2017 Iron Dog race and today the theme will continue as teams charge up the Western coast of Alaska toward Nome. Riders battled extreme cold, rough trail conditions, frostbite, additional equipment issues, a few spills and wrecks on the trail, and just generally a tough day on the 2017 Iron Dog Race trail.
To catch up on last night race happenings, we had many teams including most of the front runners race all the way up the Yukon river to Kaltag, while some racers opted to stop in Galena Some teams stopped in Galena an hour shy of Kaltag for their 8 hour break. There isn’t much in Kaltag, but it has become a popular layover spot in recent years so I’m sure they can handle up to 10 teams staying the night there, comfortably. It’s safe to say that most of the teams will likely stay in the homes of local villagers they have connections with or have met in years past.
The aforementioned time correction, due to the frozen fueling pumps in McGrath, was applied in Kaltag, allowing Team 16 to leave 19 minutes early from their layover release time. Team 41 got to leave 2 minutes early because of the same fuel pump fiasco. This correction put Team 16 out of Kaltag about 6 minutes ahead of Team 8 and Team 41 about 25 minutes behind Team 8 to round off the top three racing teams to depart the checkpoint. The other teams in the Top 10 are 1 to 4 hrs behind the leaders.
Todd Minnick of Team 16 with protective duct tape on his face to help prevent frostbite
The first team to leave Kaltag (Team 16) got on the clock just before 1am this morning. The typical strategy is to race to Unalakleet, take another 8hrs of layover, then run up the coast and on to Nome in the daylight, trying as best as they can to make the fastest time from White Mountain to Nome to claim that $6,000 payout. Kaltag to Unalakleet is 98 miles of very rough overland trail. Large clumps of frozen tundra with typically just moderate to little snow, and what is there is often hard and wind-drifted. The top 3 teams made the run to Unalakleet in just about 2 hrs.
Team 16 made the run in 2:02
Team 8 made the run in 1:59
Team 41 made the run in 1:53 (the second and third place teams making up a bit of ground on the leaders)
Team 8 installing fresh skis and carbide for the race up the Western coast of Alaska toward Nome in the 2017 Iron Dog Race
As of roughly 9am, there were a dozen other teams already in Unalakleet or they are headed toward the checkpoint, and it is suspected that many more teams will take their last 8 hrs of layover in Unalakleet. Some of the teams farther back in the pack that are 8-10 hours behind may decide to push up the coast during the daylight and take their last 8 hours of LO in White Mountain about 90 miles from Nome.
Adding to the ever growing list of teams forced from the 2017 Iron Dog race, Team 22 has scratched in Galena. Extreme cold has caused frostbite which race officials deemed serious enough to not allow them to continue with risk of permanent damage.
We also got a word from Chad Dow Team 39:
“Iron Dog update for day 2…..
Shane and I got in the clock at McGrath at 11:33 and it was – 38F. We had to flip our sleds on their side and physically spin the track by hand as everything was frozen solid and wouldn’t move. We lost some time doing that but a lot of teams had the same problem. We had a clean run to Ophir and gained ground on a lot of teams in front of us. We had the wrong skis for the conditions so it was hard for us to steer on some roads. We left Ophir full of fuel and filled our side tanks to head for the long rough 100 mile stretch to Poorman, the most remote Irondog checkpoint. On the way there Shane and I experienced some suspension issues, maybe due to everything being so frozen. We had to slow the pace tremendously to keep our sleds together. About 10 miles before we reached Poorman, we let teams 5 and 17 pass so we didn’t hold them up. Getting into Poorman is a one way in one way out for about a mile. The only section of trail that you could possibly meet another team coming the other way. We were creeping along hugging the right when another team was coming out from the check point and rounded the corner and locked his brakes up and slid sideways causing us to hit left front to left front. We were 500′ from the check point running clean. Shane and I gathered some of the yard sale items up and was fortunate enough some how to keep rolling. We checked into Poorman, caught our breath and decided to limp to Ruby and evaluate there. We arrived to Ruby, did a quick look over, put a jacket on, and headed down the Yukon for Galena at -50 degrees. We made the 52 mile trip in a hour after stopping to change a belt and stopping another two times for adjustments. I could go fine on the flat ground but couldn’t turn left easily as the entire left front suspension was crunched from the crash. We arrived in Galena and declared our layover and went on the hunt for parts. Our biggest obstacle was we both needed suspension parts to keep going through the rough. The crash damage was fixable, but we unfortunately couldn’t find enough parts for both sleds. We knew we could get to Kaltag but not Unalakleet without them being fixed. With that said we unfortunately will not be able to continue on. We are both really bummed as the 2 hardest days of the race were done. I will get some photos at some point today of my sled as it is in Impound at the Galena check point. We are both fine and in good shape. I luckily escaped with a bruised hand from the wreck. We will keep everyone posted with what happens next.”
Iditarod Trail Race veteran Rebecca Charles puts some perspective on how difficult the trail is from Unalakleet to Shaktoolik
“Racers head out of Unalakleet past the fuel pumps and take a left onto a road/trail heading North along the coast. It winds through the willow brush and passes the old reindeer farm sitting on a high bluff above the ocean. Racers cross Egavik creek where 2 out of 3 the last 3 years we have LITERALLY had to ride across 300 yards of driftwood… logs from 6 to 36 inches in diameter. I stopped trying to find a trail around them years ago and most of us just Baja right over the jumble of trees. It’s incredible how well the sleds handle log crawling.
Rebecca Charles: “2015 just past the jumble of logs at Egavik Creek”
Racers then head up into the Blueberry Hills and travel these rolling hills, following wooden tripod trail markers until the Norton Sound and Shaktoolik can be seen in the distance, on a low lying spit. Racers travel down hill on a narrow and winding trail to Beeson Slough and the bay on the inside of the narrow spot of land where Shaktoolik sits. They pass Old Shaktoolik, the abandoned village and fish camps to a town just wide enough for one building on either side of the main “street.” The people who live here are very kind and extremely resilient. One there, its then time to fuel up and head toward the Norton Sound crossing toward Koyuk.”
Rebecca Charles: “2015 overlooking the ocean from the Blueberry Hills”
An update from a local on the trail, Erica Esmailka, says that Team 44 Berg/George have scratched at Kaltag after checking in at 10:10am. She reports that it was a broken left side torsion spring on one of theirArctic Cat ZR 6000 R XC 600 sleds. They’re looking for one right now to be able to drive back to Galena. Also reporting on social media, Cory Davis of Team 41, currently in 3rd position posted saying “We had a engine code probably lost 15-20 minutes screwing around.” When questioned if they were doing OK, Davis responded with “Yup we are clean, just a sticky exhaust valve, most likely from the skidoo oil, (c-tec oil is much thinner).”
Nome is the half way point of the race. In Nome the teams will get a 24-36 hr layover. Due to the fast trip north this year it could be even longer than 36 hrs. The Iron Dog officials host a banquet for all the racers and their families and the town of Nome, which will happen tomorrow evening. Many awards, both cash and prizes will be passed out and lots of incredible stories will be shared. These racers, while fierce competitors on the trail, are all one big family when they get to Nome. You will see all the top competitors laughing and talking and describing their experiences of their run toward the halfway point.
Trail from White Mountain to Nome
In Nome all the machines will be impounded in the Nome Public Works Garage. Teams will be able to do a 15 minute inspection of their sled but they will not be allowed to work on them in any way. Once their inspection is complete the teams will go back to their resting spots and develop their strategy for the maintenance and repairs their sleds will need. They will inform the Race Marshal when they plan to do their repairs/maintenance, but will only begin once everything is organized, prepared, and ready for work as quickly as possible since ll repairs and maintenance are done while the clock is running and while an Iron Dog official is watching. Once the repairs are complete, the elapsed time that it takes will be added to each teams departure time.
It is unofficial but it looks like we have a new record time into the halfway point in the 33rd running of the world’s longest, toughest snowmachine race. Team #16 of Todd Minnick and Nick Olstad roared into Nome at 15:27:25 this afternoon averaging 52 MPH over the first 1108 miles of the race.
Nipping at their heels was last years’ champs Tyler and Tyson of Team #8 just 14ish minutes later.
Corey Davis and Ryan Simons were the 3rd team in and only 37 minutes separated the top 3 teams. All the manufacturers were equally represented in the top 3 teams into Nome. It is amazing how well the sleds have held up over the grueling terrain with the -50° temps making the plastics and metal more brittle. And I think it is accurate to note that there has not been one engine failure so far.
And just now, the Fairbanks Team #28 of Gunderson and Norum have also checked into Nome.
Racers coming into the White Mountain checkpoint, where the guys took a quick photo op with the students who live there. Great community involvement along the entire trail!