Iron Dog Race – Day 2 – Pushing Toward the Coast
The evening of Day 1 found riders in the Iron Dog race stopping earlier than planned, some even backtracking on the trail, and a few teams also facing a forced scratch after insurmountable equipment damages very early on. It is unclear why, but we saw several racers make the decision to hole up in Rohn, far from the normal first layover checkpoint of McGrath. Palin/Quam, Morgan/Olds, Conlon/Fulsom, to name just a few have declared layover here, which could be a sign of early damage to the sleds from the blistering pace this trail is allowing this year.
Team 6 Schachle/George, our fastest team to Skwentna, were able to get back up to competitive racing speed. Whatever slowed them down between Puntilla Lake and Rohn must have been sorted out through either minimal damage, talented wrenching, or even a bit of both. Team 6 was on-pace for moving across the Farewell Burn area as fast as their counterparts.
The Rohn checkpoint offers very little in the way of support for teams needing any sort of significant equipment repairs. We heard that Team 22 Steiner/Strobel declared layover at this modest checkpoint to address a damaged cooler on one of their Arctic Cat sleds caused by a wayward stud. Without the availability of a welder to tack up the hole in the aluminum part, Team 22 may be looking at alternative means of plugging the hole, such as quick-seal compounds.
To give you an idea of how minimal the accommodations are in Rohn, here is a look at both the outside and what the inside offers to the racers. You can see that there is bunk space for up to four people, and three of them will be Iron Dog race officials.
Other than a few issues with studs causing damage to coolers, it seems that protecting your A-Arms is the name of the game so far in the race. It seems that the trail conditions on the south fork of the Kuskokwim river are pretty bad this year, likely contributing to these racers stopping early in Rohn. Team 36 damaged a lower A-Arm just outside Rohn and declared layover, but have parts available and were be back on the trail after completing repairs on the clock. Nearly all teams that stopped short of McGrath have completed a layover in Rohn have made the necessary repairs and have made it to McGrath, and beyond. Team 5 was on a great run up toward McGrath last night before breaking a spindle 30 miles shy of the checkpoint. They were able to limp it the last remaining distance and will complete those repairs after their 14 hour layover.
Out of the fleet of Pro-Class racers, we currently have four racing teams that have scratched. We mentioned rookie Team 25 yesterday and after contacting Tyler Bogert, he reported that the spring perch on the rear skid broke at about 70mph and let the torsion spring come around and rip the outer belt of the track off. The studded track hit the cooler and ripped a significant gash in it. They tried a quick seal repair with no luck. Their Iron Dog race was unfortunately cut short because of the severely damaged cooler.
Team 12 also had to throw in the towel after returning to the start shortly after departure, but we have no details on what caused the scratch. They had successfully got back in the race as of last evening, but had to once again return to Big Lake, another year that these guys have had a severe case of bad luck. We hope to see them back next year for another try at this!
We briefly mentioned yesterday that Team 30’s Geoff Crouse hit a tree, forcing a layover in Puntilla Lake. After the layover it seems that the bulkhead damage suffered during the crash was just too much to repair, along with additional tunnel damage. If they were 100 miles from the finish line instead of 1900 they might have been able to make a repair and limp it in. Unfortunately their Iron Dog race is over.
Late last night we got wind that Team 3 Barber/Spain had some trouble on the Farewell Burn, then things went from bad to worse between Nikolai and McGrath. The racers arrived at the checkpoint riding double on one of their Polaris XCR 600 sleds, tired and cold. It was very cold in McGrath this morning, nearing 40 below zero, which is a huge safety issue for these racers when the threat of being stranded in the middle of nowhere is a real consideration. Barber and Spain grabbed some parts and went back after the second sled. This morning the GPS reported that one of Team 3’s machines was sitting about 15 miles outside of McGrath. This could be the last time the engine was started and the last time the transponder pinged. This team has scratched in McGrath, but we are glad the racers are safe and sound in this extreme weather.
Team 18 Zwink/Watson are were having trouble and were back in Puntilla last night. They took an early layover there yesterday and made some repairs. Once back on the trail they were making good time up the Ptarmigan Valley headed toward Rohn. At some point things must have gone south as they were back in Puntilla as of last last night. They haven’t officially scratched but the rules say you can’t take 2 separate layovers at the same checkpoint, so the clock is ticking for those guys who are currently in last position, but still racing.
As of 9am this morning leaders will have been back on the clock and moving their way through interior Alaska. They will leave the town of McGrath (population 350) and head north toward the mighty Yukon River. The next town they will see is Ruby (population 170) which rests on the bank of the Yukon. It’s about 240 trail miles from McGrath to Ruby. Besides the refueling stations, which are set up at long ago abandoned mining sites, there is absolutely nothing between McGrath and Ruby. For 240 miles you won’t see any sign of human existence outside the tiny refueling checkpoint.
To give an idea of what the trail looks like, here are a few photos of the area between McGrath and Ophir, The fastest part of today’s ride.
This is outside of Ophir looking south toward the back side of the Alaska Range. Teams are headed in the opposite direction of this picture.
This is the Poorman Checkpoint. This and a few dozen drums of fuel is all that is there.
The Ophir checkpoint is nothing glamorous either. This, and a 55 gallon drum structure is essentially all that exist here:
The best part of the trail from Ophir to Poorman looks something like this.
Here are the top 10 teams released from McGrath today. You can see many of the front runners very close in time to one another.
2016 Iron Dog Race Champions Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson were interviewed by SkiDoo earlier this month, giving a great insight on the Iron Dog race, preparations, and how they got started in this crazy annual journey across the largest state in the union.
Many teams have been reporting that temperatures earlier in the day were well below -40 degrees with some veterans saying its the coldest they’ve encountered in the race. Team #18 has unfortunately been forced to scratched. Andrew Zwink is very sick with a stomach bug, and may have to be flown out of he can’t ride back to Big lake. What he has is not life threatening, but nobody wants to throw up in their helmet while riding in sub-zero temperatures while bumping down a trail.
We also received confirmation that Brad George of Team 6 did sustain a crash in the gorge yesterday. His machine suffered e broken A-Arms and possibly even a shock as well. His teammate Robbie went to Rohn and grabbed parts. The racers made the repairs on the trail and were back up to race speed. They are about 1hr 50 minutes behind the leaders, which is a considerable amount to whittle away at, but as we know, anything is possible in this race.
Speaking of crashes, there was a smartphone video of Team 12 (shown below) crashing roughly 2 miles from the starting line. The first machine went right over the berm in question, but the second sled cartwheeled a few times, the first cartwheel it looked like the rider hung on and got slammed by the sled. They towed it back to the Arctic Cat shop where they replaced the steering post, handle bars, windshield, side panels, etc.
They returned to the race and shortly after going across the first big swamp about 10 miles from the starting line the other driver lost control and suffered a similar fate to the sled, but this time with a possible dislocated shoulder. After two substantial crashes in short order, along with the injury, Team 12 decided to throw in the towel for their 2017 Iron Dog race.
All of the teams will take another layover this evening. Many will push to Galena or possibly Kaltag, while some will stop in Ruby, the first village they get to on the Yukon River. It all depends oh how their sleds are doing and what time of the day it is when they reach the Yukon.
Teams are required to take 28 hours of layover on their northbound run to Nome. The front runners have taken 14 hours so far. They have 14 more hours to take before the get to Nome. If the front runners reach the Yukon with 3 hours of daylight left they may try to push to Unalakleet before taking their next layover. Then they would likely take 8hrs in Unalakleet, get back on the clock at about 3am, race across the coast to White Mountain where they would take their final 6hrs of layover. The final sprint 90 miles to Nome would then happen Tuesday afternoon. There is a $6000 prize for the fastest team from White Mountain to Nome, so lots of teams are gonna push it hard right there in hopes of a payout at the halfway point.
The layovers in the Iron Dog race are all part of their individual strategy and where the sun is on the horizon, since driving into a setting sun slows you down due to inhibited vision looking into the light. If you are limping along with a wounded sled it’s best to just take a layover and wait for parts to show up. Once off the layover they can fix the sled and be back up to race speed.
There was a bit of confusion as to the departure time for Team 16 as they left McGrath, and we have received a bit of clarification on this. When Team 16 went on the clock and tried to refuel their sleds all the pumps at the fueling station were frozen. It took race officials a considerable amount of time to get things thawed out, and all the while, the clock was ticking for racers attempting to fuel their machines. I think we will see a time adjustment at their next layover point, and we are hearing that Team 16 will get to leave ~19 minutes early to make up for the lost time refueling.
It appears that Team 8, Team 41 and Team 16 are all through Ruby headed down the mighty Yukon River. The three teams separated by a mere 9 minutes. If this time holds then that means Team 16 is still in the lead by about 10 minutes once they get their 19 minutes adjusted to their overall course time.
One of the top Polaris teams, Mike Morgan and Chris Olds, have scratched in McGrath. Their Facebook page reported the scratch and when asked why, only a ‘Mechanical’ was given, but we now know that the track failed on one of the machines. Without being able to get a replacement track in a reasonable amount of time, this has forced them from the race. This makes, unofficially, 6 teams that have scratched, since the official Iron Dog race page has not updated Team 10’s status.
Tyson and Tyler of Team 8 giving you an idea of the pace these racers set during a 2,000 mile race across Alaska. Video from John Williams in Koyukuk.
Team 5 has apparently had a head on collision with another team coming out of the Poorman Checkpoint. Jerrod’s Polaris Axys Pro-S 600 is totaled and he may have substantial bodily injury, but nothing life threatening. An airplane has just left for McGrath to pick up someone with ‘broken bones’ in Poorman. It is reported that the collision was with one of the Team Maine guys but both Maine teams are moving toward the Yukon at speed…we shall see.