By: Michael Rogers
After checking in to Unalakleet, Nic Petit rested his team for 5 hours and departed with his remaining ten dogs for Shaktoolik just before 3:00p. At the time of this writing he is expected to hit Shaktoolik shortly after 8:00p. His main pursuers, Joar Ulsom and Jessie Royer gave chase just before midnight and both stopped at a grove of timber 20 miles from Unalakleet and rested for several hours.
Pete Kaiser caught up to them after a very fast run off of an 8-hour rest and camped as well. The three broke camp and cruised into Unalakleet led by Kaiser and followed by Joar and Jessie. They were in and out of Unalakleet within minutes of arrival. Since their departure, Kaiser has led the way and eroded the Flying Frenchman’s lead from 26 miles to a mere 12 miles. Fairly remarkable considering Kaiser didn’t leave Kaltag until nearly 1:00a.
Mitch Seavey left Kaltag at 3:47a and made it to the timber camp just after 1:00p. He stayed there for the heat of the day and departed for Unalakleet right after 5:00p in 5th position. Aliy Zirkle and Jesse Holmes left Kaltag at 7:30a and 6:57a respectively and made it to Old Woman Cabin before resting out the remainder of the afternoon. They are currently in 6th and 7th position. Matt Hall in 8th position zipped through Kaltag and rested at Tripod Flats. The remainder of the front pack- Failor, Drobny and Redington arrived at Old Woman and rested. Currently all parties in the front pack are on the Kaltag Portage are pulsing toward Unalakleet and the coast.
The assumption is that teams who rested at the timber camp are going to continue to Shaktoolik. It will be interesting to see if any of the front pack who rested at Old Woman or Tripod will push through Unalakleet or rest there. It would be a long haul from Old Woman to Shaktoolik and even further from Tripod, especially in the high winds on the coast.
The trail from Unalakleet to Shaktoolik runs initially through the Blueberry Hills and is fairly straightforward. The last twelve miles or so into Shaktoolik is a wide open and barren coastline with nowhere to shelter from the wind. In good weather, the run is 4-6 hours along a well-used snowmachine trail that connects the two villages. On bad years it might be double that or more as vicious winds lash the shoreline and create deep wind chills and ground blizzards. It is one of the more notorious sections of trail that leave mushers completely exposed to the Bering Sea weather.
Another factor in the race is the accelerated rate of dogs being returned from competition. While every dog on the team is important, the loss of a leader is doubly impacting. Leads pick the trail and help the rest of the dogs avoid energy sucking overflow and soft snow as well as pick the actual trail out from the sometimes confusing array of snowmachine tracks. Some teams with large kennels travel with several dogs who are lead dogs for that very reason, a smaller outfit might only have one. Matt Hall has returned his rock star lead dog Anchor and Joar Ulsom returned his lead Joeger and is relying on an untested quasi-lead named Dodge. Aliy Zirkle has returned one of her leads, Commando, for a minor cut sustained in the Gorge. Their absence could be a significant factor in the race. The dogs are now in the hands of race veterinarian staff and doing well and on their way back to Anchorage.
The middle pack has been steadily coming into Kaltag all day and their pace times are significantly slower than the lead pack last night. At this point, the middle pack is all into Kaltag or trickling out exhausted to Tripod Flats for some rest. The back of the pack is strung out from Eagle Island all the way back to nearly Shageluk. The leaders are pressing in on the Bering and the Red Lantern isn’t yet to the Yukon River, a course spread out over nearly 300 miles.