By: Michael Rogers
This year is an example of just how quickly the Iditarod can change. At 10:00p last night, then leader Nic Petit’s team ran into difficulty on the ice and simply quit moving. At the time he had a commanding lead of a couple of hours over his pursuers and looked nearly certain to be the first to Nome. His dogs had other plans. The report is that he had two dogs get into a fight, Petit broke it up, and the team simply refused to move after that. Petit coaxed them into slowly moving off the ice and onto the arm a few miles away and he camped there until 5:00p today- a full 19 hours of dead stop pretty much crushed his chances at an Iditarod win. At 5:00p his GPS marker began moving back toward Shaktoolik and off of the front pack.
Pete Kaiser left Shaktoolik and arrived in Koyuk at 8:54a, spent 5h21m there and mushed on for Nome with an hour lead on Joar Ulsom. Following Joar is Jessie Royer about an hour behind who left Koyuk at 4:55p.
These three have a fairly substantial lead over the remaining members of the front pack made up of Aliy Zirkle, Jesse Holmes, Mitch Seavey, Travis Beals and Matt Hall on the ice to Koyuk. Matthew Failor and Paige Drobny round out the top ten and are just coming onto the ice north of Shaktoolik. Expect Zirkle and Holmes to arrive in Koyuk about 7:30p and Seavey about 8:00p.
The middle pack is stretched from Shaktoolik to Unalakleet and is mostly resting in checkpoints, waiting for cooler temperatures to continue the trek to Nome. The back of the pack is mostly on the Kaltag Portage, Kaltag checkpoint, and a small contingent still moving up the Yukon River. For any teams still in Shaktoolik or behind, the math is against a win. There is simply a lot of talent on the trail in front to overcome. Robert Reddington scratched today in Kaltag, Robert is race founder Joe Redington’s youngest grandson on the course this year and this is his fourth Iditarod race.
The course from Koyuk goes through several checkpoints punctuated by much shorter runs than earlier in the race. The run to Elim is 48 miles and from there beyond to Golovin is just another 28 miles. Golovin to White Mountain is only 18 miles. The exhausted teams usually take this section in bursts with very short rest periods, knowing that in White Mountain there is a mandatory 8-hour rest for everyone coming through. They leave White Mountain just 77 miles from the Burled Arch of Nome.
On this section of the course, wind is the ever-present threat as the bulk of the trail is subjected to the full fury of coastal storms. On calms days, the course is a run up and down coastal mountains with limited excursions onto sea ice. In severe weather, the course is altogether different and has ended many mushers races with rescues. Look for the winner to cross the line perhaps late tomorrow with teams trickling in for the next several days.