What a perfect day for the Re-start of the 2014 Iditarod yesterday! Although it was perfect for us, the dogs would certainly prefer it to be a bit on the colder side. I was lucky enough to have a behind the scenes look before the race started and it was very interesting to see how varied the gear of the different mushers was. It seemed that many of the mushers are now employing a ‘tow behind’ style sled, which offers not only a place for the musher to possibly sit down and have a break, but also allows for a different place for gear storage, a kennel for a tired dog, or whatever use that the musher might want it for.
As the racers left the starting chute, it is important to remember that in the first few days of the race, it’s about keeping the dogs moving along at a steady pace, not worrying too much about the competitors but running YOUR race. In turn, some mushers put their lead dogs in the tow behind to slow the pack down and I don’t think we saw a musher not standing on the brake yesterday afternoon to put a bit of resistance on the dogs as well. By subtracting a few dogs it slows the entire team by a margin and allows the team to not take off on a sprint to allow a pace to be set. It would be easy to let the dogs run quickly, but this is a long distance race. Pace is key.
With over 1,000 miles to cover between Willow and Nome, it is next to impossible to tell in the first few days who’s going to win. Many won’t even make predictions until Nikolai or later. I have a feeling the trail conditions and Martin Buser move last year might shake things up a bit. If you remember during Iditarod 41, Martin Bruser ran his team 165 miles to Rohn without camping and then declared his mandatory 24-hour layover, which was a very unexpected move. Jeff King was interviewed during the ceremonial start in Anchorage making a statement along the lines of him rather seeing low snow conditions and mild weather than heavy snow and high winds, which can quickly take its toll on a team of dogs.
Reports of the trail to Yentna Station have been the best that mushers have seen in many years. The ground is hard and fast. A spectator reported hardly a dog bootie was found on his travel up the river, which indicated that it wasn’t too hard on the dogs’ feet. As of earlier today, Buser had the fastest runtime of anyone, 3 hrs. and 22 minutes. Right behind him was Mitch with 3 hrs. 59. Reports from airplanes up through Rohn on the trail have confirmed what everyone already knew…a lack of snow. As of 11 pm last night, Buser is in first place setting a blistering pace.
On the morning of day two, we woke up to the discovery that a few musher have ‘pulled a Buser’, so to speak. Kelly Maixner hasn’t stopped and made it to Rohn at 11:26 with 16 dogs. With his tow behind he was switching dogs out, giving individual breaks to the animals allowing him to stretch his run time on the trail. Reports have said that he came in with a broken sled and the trail from Rainy pass is very technical, which means its only going to get worse from here forward for a while. If worst comes to worst, he can repair his sled in McGrath on a layover. In the meantime, his kit of zip-ties and duct tape will hopefully hold him over! Maxiner took advantage of the cooler temperatures at night and in the early morning for the dogs to run at a good pace and not become overheated. As of 1:00pm, Maxiner was the only musher to reach the Rohn checkpoint. In pursuit of Maxiner, Martin Buser continued his quick pace on the trail into the second day of racing with his GPS unit reporting 11mph. Behind Buser is Michael Williams JR, Paul Gebhardt, Nicholas Petit and Hugh Neff. This is Michael Williams 5th Iditarod and reports show his team is at their best. Even as early as day two, we are starting to show the pack starting to string out and see some distance between the racers. Some mushers are pushing the envelope and trying new routines. We will see if the new plans, coupled with adverse trail conditions might pay off or if the ‘tried and true’ way of doing things for many of the veterans might pay off. Another early surprise is that Buser still hasn’t stopped, blowing by Rohn, and will declare his 24 hour checkpoint farther down the trail.
Zirkle slid into Rainy Pass half soaked and a bit iced over, indicating she may have missed the man-made bridges and took a dip into the Happy River. Most the mushers have described Happy River Steps as a ice rink. Jeff King took a spill on the way to the checkpoint, losing some dog dishes and gear in the tumble. Dee Dee Jonrowe came into Rainy Pass yelling she couldn’t stop the dogs on the trail either after taking a spill, bonking her head and complaining of a sore neck. Its safe to say that the early trail is hard and very icy, leaving much to be desired for the mushers in regards to dog team management and navigating their way across the frozen ground safely. The Norwegian musher Robert Sorlie was seen feeding his dog out of an assortment of different bowls and buckets and had fallen prey to the slippery conditions as well. On the trip down the happy steps he lost his rear compartment containing his cooker, bowls, ladle and bucket along with having his seat ripped off in the process as well. Jeff King was immediately behind Sorlie during the accident, catching the whole thing on his hat mounted GoPro camera. Sorlie and King were fairly amused at the whole incident, with Sorlie yelling to king that ‘I lost all my bowls!’ The iditarod.com website reported what may be the largest incident of equipment breakage: “Jake Berkowitz, in the same descent at the Happy, wrapped his sled on the opposite of a tree. The 1000 pound mass of his team broke the 7000 pound test rope tow line and left him with two wheel dogs. Jake is a big guy, but made a speedy run down the steps. Luckily a cameraman grabbed two line and balled up the runaway team. Jake tied a knot in the tow line—wasted 22 minutes by his estimation—and continue to Rainy. His intention was to reverse the towline and put the weak end at the leaders and the undamaged rope at the wheel.”
With temps knocking on 40 degrees, it’s not surprising to see Mitch Seavey along with peers Jake Berkowitz and Hans Gatt soaking in the afternoon sun with plans to run in the cooler parts of the day. Its still early, but this trail is proving to be troublesome for even the veterans in this race. Stay tuned!