By: Michael Rogers
Overnight, Nic Petit pushed through Shageluk and was the first musher to arrive in Anvik on the mighty Yukon. As a result he netted the “First to the Yukon” prize, a five-course meal from the Lakefront Hotel in Anchorage and a cash prize.
He rested there for four and a half hours and is the first musher to turn north up the river. Most people expected him to take his mandatory Yukon 8 hour rest there, but in Petit fashion- he left and mushed on. His “Yukon 8” choices are Grayling, Eagle Island, or Kaltag. I’d suspect he would take the 8 in Eagle Island and push on to Tripod or Old Woman Cabin and spend minimal time in Kaltag. Petit has a history of avoiding trying to rest in populated checkpoints, perhaps due to people and noise disturbing the dogs.
Joar Ulsom took his “Yukon 8” in Shageluk, the first possible checkpoint, and is the only musher to do so at this report. Surprisingly Jessie Royer, Pete Kaiser and Mitch Seavey did not complete the 8 and pushed out after 4 hours or so and are trying to maintain position. At this point, the entire lead pack is at Shageluk or beyond and turning north to Kaltag. While the bulk of the attention is on the two apparent leaders, Petit and Ulsom, it would pay to remember that the following10 positions behind are some of the most consistently placing teams in long distance mushing.
For instance, Royer and Kaiser have a string of top ten finishes over a period of years.
Seavey is a three-time champion and has finished in the top ten more than he hasn’t and Aliy Zirkle has a long record of second and third place finishes and a Quest win. In addition to veteran competitors, the front pack contains some amazing new talent- Diehl, Drobny, Redington, Fallor have been hanging on the front pack consistently. Matt Hall is a Quest champion and Jessie Holmes was last year’s Rookie of the Year winner with a 7th place finish on his first try.
Given the experience of the front pack, at least one or two of them are not running at full potential and are banking rest for the trail along the coast. By running just fast enough to stay in the top dozen, they are letting other teams break the trail while maintaining energy and their dogs. For instance, after her run to Iditarod through the night Zirkle has slowed down considerably and is now at the back of the front pack with Jessie Holmes. Holmes on the run to Skwentna proved his team is not only very fast, but capable of running in very warm temperatures. Holmes has the fastest overall average speed; which means he is resting more than everyone else- an important factor later in the race when he’ll need everything in the tank. Mitch Seavey has a long history of hanging back in 7th or 8th position and then letting them fly once he hits Shaktoolik.
Expect Petit in Grayling around noon and the rest of the front pack into Anvik before dinner to set up for a long night run up the Yukon in anticipation of winds picking up from a storm building up in the Bering. For the next eight or twelve hours, the teams will want to put some miles on in the fresh powder and calm conditions before the winds start.