The whistle blew as Team 20 Faeo/Quam were first to arrive in Nome, signaling a much-needed halftime break in this 2,000 mile snowmobile race across what is proving to be one of the most challenging trails in the history of the race. Considering the teams have pounded their bodies and equipment for 1,108 miles from the starting line in Big Lake, Team 7 of Bartel/Davis were trailing the front-runners by a slim margin as they arrived into Nome 17 minutes later. At 7:15 the Father/Son Team 6 were able to hit the killswitch and take a breather. Kyle Hopkins reports here that:
‘Davis suffered a punishing crash, his partner said.
“(The sled) launched sideways and kind of drug him underneath the machine, kind of a nasty wreck there and of course everything is ice. There’s no snow, so it’s not very forgiving right now when you crash it hurts,” Bartel said.
Here’s more from the leaders, interviewed as they arrived:
“It was a pretty smooth ride. We were riding with McKenna there for a while, going into Shaktoolik. They had a steering issue, I think. Some of the trail wasn’t marked real well. … We had to do some navigating. … The trailmarkers were out there marking it as we came by, we were just a little bit too fast for them. But all in all it was a good ride today. Sleds were working great.”
“It was pretty fast. Luckily we had a bit of good weather, so we could see a little bit. It was still really rough out of Unalakleet for the first 30 miles, and then little open water here and there made it interesting. We kinda were taking it easy on our equipment and everything looks good. … It’s awesome. I’ve always wanted to get here first and to be clean and that’s two good things, and we got both of them.”
“We caught up with second place right out of Koyuk, and we followed them into town and right out of town we were going to make the pass for second and as I was passing … my center shock snapped it just started bucking me. I bowed into it about twice and I just stopped. Dad comes over to me and I say, ‘Something’s wrong,’ flip it over and the shock snapped. We were about 5 miles out. Went straight back, some local kid had a similar sled couple years older, I bought a shock off him. It ended up not even working. We made it ten miles out and it broke, so if you look my sled is sacked down on the ground. We rode up from Koyuk with no center. So … it was a good run though it was a lot of fun.”’
There is just no two ways about it, the top 2 teams are fast…really fast as they have been putting some distance on the teams behind them. At almost 56 years, ‘old-man’ Scott Davis is one of the fastest humans alive on a snowmobile. Davis hadn’t decided to participate in this race until about a month ago and was on the starting line with little to no training miles and very little time spent with the new sleds. Despite the lack of recent experience with the new equipment, Davis/Bartel were still pinging their GPS’s at speeds in the triple digits along the Western coast of Alaska.
When in Nome, teams will get a free 15 minute inspection of their sleds, allowing them to go over their equipment with a fine-tooth comb after they thaw out. Teams will use flashlights, voice recorders, pen and paper, and anything that can make note of not only what parts need to be replaced, but also what specific tools will be needed for those repairs. Once they are allowed to start wrenching on the sleds, this time will count toward their overall race time, so having parts and tools in order will help shave time off repairs dramatically. At this time, Teams 6 and 7 are both done with what little repairs that were needed to be made and others are scheduling their times now.
We mentioned Ryan Sottasanti of Team 2 experienced heavy damage to the right side of his snowmobile earlier in the race and it looks like it has happened again. Both a-arms, the shock, and tie-rod on the right side of the snowmobile will again need to be completely replaced…on the clock.
There have been many folks following Team 4, the only females in the Pro-Class, and unfortunately they were forced to scratch earlier this morning. Rachel and Ashley were having a decent run up the coast early this morning but ran into trouble on one of the many water crossings. At about 4am and they reported to be skipping across a slough out of Koyuk river and ran directly into a 12″ ice ledge, completely detaching the a-arms and shock from the sled, leaving a huge hole in the bulkhead. They were able to tow the machine to the next checkpoint but have determined they can not continue. Luckily neither racer was injured in the process.
On the theme of ice/water/and serious trouble, I think Team 33 has taken the brunt of it to date. After fueling up in Shaktoolik, Conner/Koontz flew out of the checkpoint with their sights on Koyuk, 57 miles to the North. Shortly after leaving town, the trail forced them to take dozens of crossings over patches of very broken ice and deep water before reaching solid ice on the Norton Sound. These were ocean water crossings on a slough that raises and falls with the tide. Roughly 2 miles from the checkpoint, Conner was leading and things were going as smoothly as the racers could have hoped for until he looked back and his race partner was no longer behind him. Conner quickly turned around and made ADDITIONAL water crossings back toward his partners location. When he got close he could see Koontz in nearly neck-deep water making his way to the nearest ice-ledge, a short ways away from his Polaris snowmobile which only had the tip of the tall windshield sticking out of the water. Kyle helped him out of the water where they both hopped on Conners sled on their way back to Shaktoolik. Koontz reported that his sled simply lost power and died in the middle of a skip.
While riding double back to Shaktoolik, lightning struck twice for Team 33 and in the middle of another water crossing, Conner’s sled stopped running much like Koontz’ did earlier. Together they sank in about 3 feet of water, right up to the headlight of the snowmobile. They could see the lights of the prior checkpoint so they began walking back to the checkpoint about half of a mile away, soaking wet. Luckily for them, Team 40 had experienced a chaincase failure (they are awaiting parts to be flown in) and were headed back toward Shaktoolik as well and were able to give Conner and Koontz a ride back. Kyle dried out quickly and went back to recover the sunken machines. With the assistance of some locals, Conner got his sled out and made his way to recover Koontz’s Polaris as well. Both machines were drug inside a makeshift garage back in Shaktoolik and Conner began the process of seeing if he could make them run. At this time Koontz was still very wet and cold and was focusing on getting back in shape himself before worrying about the sopping wet snowmobiles. After about an hour Conner had drained all the fuel and dried everything as well as he could and was able to get got both machines running. After several runs up and down the beach on both sleds, he was sure they could continue the trip North.
By this time Koontz had warmed up and was able to get all his gear dry and the team decided they were going to stay in the race. They waited for the next team to come through and they stayed with Team 5 for the ride across the Norton Sound to Koyuk. Total time lost in this ordeal appears to be about 4.5 hours. It is suspected that these problems were from bad fuel in Shaktoolik. Conner reported to our unofficial race correspondent, Tom Whitstine, that there were sections of open water across Golovnin lagoon between Koyuk and White Mountain hundreds of feet wide when they came through at 2:30 am in the dark, running tandem with Team 5. This is deep ocean water. Conner stated that he ‘Would have never crossed there if he had known how bad the open water was.’ Team 20 Faeo/Quam skipped this section and went over land, adding a few miles to the trip but saving on potential disaster. Team 33 Conner/Koontz and Team 5 Carroll Chvastasz both arrived in Nome at 3:45AM.
It has also been wet and wild for Team 32 of Alward/Kanady as this photo below shows some of the struggles they have been working through.
The other team with a big scare was Team 22 Gravatt/Strobel who appeared to be stuck in the middle of Golovnin lagoon for several hours. We did finally hear that they, too, sunk their machines in the broken ice water. Both racers were able to make it to solid ground but had to traverse over 15 miles of frozen ground/ice toward the White Mountain checkpoint. As it has been reported, locals in the area were dispatched to the lagoon to recover the sunken sleds. At this time they will try to dry the sleds and get them into Nome before the 24 hour cutoff where the rules state that all racers must make it to the halfway point in one days time after the first racers to arrive. This leaves Teams 22, 40, and 32 still with a few hours to make it before the cutoff.
While those few teams are still battling several elements of this race that they likely hadn’t anticipated, most of the racers are enjoying the various stages of their 24 hour layover, awaiting a 5-star meal and the awards banquet at the halfway point of the race.
For those keeping track, team 9 rounds off an even dozen that have scratched out of the race so far. We heard that one of the sleds blew up and this time it completely destroyed the motor. No other details on that, but they will not be making the trip south.