Written by Marty Moffat
$70,000 and a pick-up truck? Is that what motivates mushers to sacrifice all year long training and preparing? After a years prep, they head out on an extremely cold camping trip for 10 days with little to no sleep. If they come out on top, the winner collects a truck and hopefully the $70K helps to cover expenses. The last place car in a field of 43 at the Daytona 500 raked in $262,000 last month. Perspective....
If you ask the mushers what motivates them I am sure the money will never come up. Personal goals, the challenge, being with the dogs, seeing Alaska and its spectacular scenery and the people around the race are most likely some responses you will hear. Lance Mackey (Four time Iditarod Champion) who was in elementary school when his father Dick won race in 1978 said, "...even growing up around the sport, the race and the people involved, I become giddy with excitement every time I get to tell people about it."
Whatever the motivation it has to be pretty strong to keep you going when your dead tired and and your body aches from the numbing cold. The cold this year is affecting some of the mushers run and rest strategies with some electing to stay in checkpoints where they can better take care of their dogs and get better rest.
The 85 miles between Kaltag and Unalakleet completes one of the longest stretches between checkpoints in the race, and leading mushers are traversing this ancient Kaltag portage today as well. It is a relatively straight valley angling southwest through the coastal mountains. This route has been used for millennia by Natives, and the weather is usually vastly different between the Yukon river drainage and the Bering Sea Coast. In fact, the teams left Kaltag at -35 and just 35 miles later at Tripod cabin it was 5° above. I'm sure a very welcome 40 degree move in the right direction!
Most of the top teams are moving quickly at around 9-10 mph. That said, Dallas Seavey's dog team looks to be very dominate. Dallas uses the phrase "creating a monster" to describe his plan to have his team all come together and peak at the right time. Despite the distance into the race, he has been picking up speed since Galena and none of the other front-runners are showing that trend. His speed between Nulato and Kaltag was a blistering 11.42 mph. And an experienced race analyst relayed that Dallas team was the most energetic and were "eating like alligators" which is an extremely positive indicator for him. Coming into Kaltag, Dallas' father, Mitch, shared that the trail on the Yukon is excellent and he was moving along at better than 10 mph. He said he wanted to go a little faster but said, "I just let the dogs pick their speed, sometimes you gotta trust the boots on the ground."
Jeff King also told Sebastian Schnuelle somewhere along the trail towards UNK to let the folks at the checkpoint know that everything is OK but will take a little longer getting there because his team "has just lost its magic" and would be stopping to give them a break. Sebastian also noted that King is using three leaders, which is somewhat unusual but thought it was because the little black female named Skeeter in the middle is short coated and in the windy conditions this would give her some reprieve and shelter. When you run dogs for over 30 years you tend to pick up an encyclopedia of knowledge and insight, and Jeff certainly has.
As I get ready to push 'send', Aaron Burmeister has checked into UNK with his team of 13 dogs at 3:49 PM. Check back in soon as I will try to provide updates more frequently as we follow the teams up the coast.