Episode 3- Rohn to McGrath
By Michael Rogers
It’s Day 3 and we officially have a dog race. Overnight the teams ran from Rohn to Nikolai and at this writing are bearing down on McGrath at race mile 311. Some teams have slowed considerably, some obvious differentiation in run and rest strategies are becoming apparent and some teams are just flat out of gas. Others made remarkable leaps up in the pack like Paige Drobny.
She started dead last and is currently at Mile 288 in 11 th position, just 14 miles behind current leader Jesse Royer. Her pace has been remarkable and she is at the tail end of the lead pack. If her team can hold up, look for her to be a race leader before the race hits the coast at Unalakleet. The lead pack is currently Royer, Sass, Diehl, Marrs, Burmeister, Ulsom, Beals, Mackey, Waerner, and Kaiser. It could be any of these folk’s race. Historically, the race winner is one of the first ten teams into Nikolai, but this year it could be any of the first 15 or 20. There is a lot of talent in the chase pack including Nic Petit, Mitch Seavey, Jesse Holmes, and Aily Zirkle- all of them with proven top 10 finishes and a few wins under their collective belt.
It’s simply too early in the race to count any of these teams out. In particular, Nic Petit is running a different strategy after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on the Norton Sound sea ice…twice. His pace times are fast and his rest times are long. Look for him to make a move once the race moves past Kaltag.
Speaking of Kaltag, that’s where the real race starts. Everyone more or less tries to get to Kaltag with an intact team and some gas in the tank for the 90 mile stretch to Unalakleet. Mushers are also strategizing about where to take their mandatory 24-hour rest. Some will take it as early as Nikolai and others may wait as long as Cripple. Takotna and McGrath are popular spots due to amenities, like the PIE in Takotna.
Mushers will try to time their 24 so that it’s over just when the sun goes down and can run fresh dogs over hard trails in the cooler temperatures. Dogs are faster at -20F than they are at 20F. Most teams have rested very little, and a 24-hour layover will ward off sleep deprivation for another couple of days.
From the back to the pack. Quince Mountain took a full 10-hour rest at the Happy Steps and while he’s probably the brightest eyed and bushiest tailed musher at this point, he’s also 100 miles behind the leader. Iditarod veteran Jim Lanier is still in Rainy Pass. His GPS tracker stopped for 6 hours after leaving Rainy Pass in 25-30 mph winds. Steve Perrins of Rainy Pass Lodge and a race marshall went on a rescue mission and brought the 79- year-old musher and his team safely back to the lodge.
This will be Jim’s 5 th scratch out of 21 attempts and he ran his first Iditarod in 1979. It’s disappointing given the ordeal Lanier went through to run this year. He will be the first scratch of the 2020 Iditarod. Tomorrow will see many teams taking their 24 hours layovers and moving into position for the run down the Yukon River toward the Bering Sea coast.