After the tortuous trail to McGrath, many racers felt rejuvenated both physically and mentally to tackle the remaining miles that separated them between them and Nome. Part of that mental boost was knowing (or hoping) that the trail conditions would improve as they continued passed Ophir, blew by Ruby, and settled in toward Galena, where many of them would opt for their second layover of 8 hours, taking advantage of what little daylight was left.
Team 7 Davis/Bartel were first to arrive 638 miles into the race at Galena, the second largest population on the Iron Dog trail, and what they said rang true with all of the other racers hot on their tail. Seven time Iron Dog champion Scott Davis reported “I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve done this every year and it was just like the last part of the burn…terrible” Pulling into Galena to claim an 8 hour rest for themselves just 4 minutes later, Andy George (racing with his son Brad) of Team 6 had similar comments. “Worst I’ve ever seen it. I thought we were done with The Burn, but it was exactly like it…frozen dirt and horrible.”
Teams 6 and 7 were certainly looking good coming into Galena and their sleds were doing as well as the riders. Both teams are piloting Skidoo MXZX machines with 600cc ETEC motors that are doing well. With that said, it is interesting to note that the first 3 teams to scratch were riding the same make/model of snowmachine and rumor has it that many teams suffered severe engine troubles during training/tuning before the race. Currently 7 teams have scratched. 5 skidoos, 1 Arctic Cat, and 1 Polaris
Though first to arrive in Galena, Team 7 and 6 were ahead physically, but not on paper as Team 17 Hill/McKenna and Team 20 Faeo/Quam were resting 52 miles behind them on the trail at Ruby. Only one minute separated the two top teams resting in Ruby, and by rough calculations, are ahead of the Team 7 in Galena by about 40 minutes.
Though teams can continue to look forward to tough trail conditions, speeds certainly picked up as they hit the Yukon River. The veterans all reported that the river trail is fast as it gets.
-Team 7 Davis/Bartel made the 52 mile run from Ruby to Galena in 43 minutes. 73MPH average.
-Team 6 George/George made the trip from Ruby to Galena in 38 minutes. 82 MPH average.
-Team 39 Barber/Lapham (Rookies) made the trip from Ruby to Galena in 43 minutes as well. 73MPH average.
Team 2, Shane Barber and Ryan Sottosanti, were lightning quick on the river as well, despite equipment breakage. Barber came into Galena with no headlight – only a little LED headlamp on his helmet. He claims to have done 95 mph on the river with only Sottosanti’s tail light for illumination.
There was a fair bit of fog on the river, which certainly wasn’t slowing the racers down on the river, but is definitely putting a damper on support planes delivering parts to racers limping their sleds between checkpoints. That brings us to an update on last years champs, Team 16 Minnick/Olstad. We aren’t hearing specifics on their issues other than that the ‘rear suspension is broken’ on one of their 2015 Polaris Axys 600’s, but due to the aforementioned fog, the support plane is not flying, forcing them to limp between Poorman and Ophir and continue a total of nearly 200 miles to Ruby so they can take a layover and hope for parts to arrive.
We also heard a bit of an update through the grapevine from Team 33 Conner/Koontz who confirmed that the trail was super rough all the way from McGrath to Ruby. They mentioned seeing many sleds getting beat very badly by the trail including rear skid issues, blown shocks, etc. Along with Team 33, Team 12 of the Strick brothers seem to be pushing along nicely, holding their Polaris Switchback 600 sleds together well. There’s no hiding equipment failure at this stage of the race and both teams are planning on turning up the heat a bit tomorrow to see if they can gain some ground on the teams ahead of them. Team 33 and Team 12 have been running neck and neck for hundreds of miles. Keep an eye on them as they battle for top 10 positioning.
Team 11 Palin/Huntington appeared to have to perform about 1 hour and 25 minutes worth of work on their Polaris sleds after going on the clock in Galena. This has cost them several positions on the trail, currently in 18th position on an 8-hour layover in Unalakleet. Reports from Facebook indicate rear axle/track tensioner failure. This was quickly repaired before they headed down toward Kaltag.
Rebecca Charles is again painting a grim picture of what is to come for these Pro-Class racers as it doesn’t appear to be getting any better as they head toward the Western coast of Alaska. The trail near Unalakleet looks hard, barren, and bumpy.
Not to mention this photo floating around of less than ideal conditions in Nome with standing water everywhere and the disappearing act of what little snow remains in and near the halfway point of this race.
As of 4:30PM, Team 17 McKenna/Hill are dropping like a rock in the standings. McKenna crashed going into Shaktoolik breaking his his steering column, handle bars and brake master cylinder. We are unsure if they have these parts in the support plane. These veteran racers either had parts on hand or MacGuyvered something together in little over an hour in Shaktoolik and are back on the trail. The fix was relatively quick, but they took a beating on trail positioning as a result. They have officially checked out at 3:51PM and last pinged their GPS at 87.2mph. I wouldn’t count them out yet as there is plenty of race to be had.
The top 3 teams are screaming up the Western coast of Alaska, all within 26 minutes of each other checking out of Koyuk. The rookies are still in 4th position, checking out of Koyuk 40 minutes after the front runners almost mass exodus.
The first Trail Class teams have made it to Nome halfway through the day today. Charles Preston, pictured below with Trail-Class Team 80, said his wife just had a baby the day they left, he hadn’t had much sleep, but was very grateful to have this picture given to him in Unalakleet. Congratulations to the Prestons!