After a grueling 20 hour layover...for race fans, the leaders have left the checkpoint of Ruby and are headed south toward the finish in Big Lake. The top three teams (7, 10, and 16) opted to take the 20 hours of layover time in Ruby. The decision was largely made due to the fact that the trail to Ophir was not established and reports from trail-breakers were not favorable.
Teams had to take 10 hours of layover time on the coast or to Ruby and then another 10 hours in Ruby or McGrath so the teams combined the layover at this checkpoint. Spectators, and interestingly enough some of the racers themselves who have scratched and are watching this unfold, were not aware of that rule change which allowed teams to combine the layovers, which is new for 2020.
Bobby Frankson, a volunteer trail-breaker reported to the Iron Dog from Carlson Crossing safety cabin that “We are going to get a fire going and get warm and push on to Ophir. We have to, we are about out of fuel. Just let the racers know it’s rough, it’s a rodeo."
Prior race veterans Blake Elder and Donald Koontz are also riding long-track machines northward to help establish a trail along with the other volunteers. He reports that "The Iditarod crew on superwides made a great trail from Puntilla. The snow is deep deep deep! We were stuck on the mountain sleds before we even hit the river from Big Lake. Like normal, if the racers go off the trail from Puntilla to Big Lake they will be really stuck. The trail is like a hot wheels track...one lane!"
The decision to stop in Ruby was purely strategic for the front-runners. The gamble was that if the snow continued to fall and the other teams followed suit, then the top teams would have to leave and re-establish a trail for their pursuers.
The other side of the equation is that they may be first on what could be a freshly broken trail as well. A few veteran racers were chiming in with their disapproval of this tactic, which was understood as them wanting to see the racers 'push on'. With a lot of money on the line and with each one of these guys having something to prove, its a mix between smart riding and smart strategy.
Adding to some of yesterdays split info compiled by Stan Brown, its still clear that these teams are running clean, fast, and largely on pace with each other.
Kaltag to Galena
7 - 1:28
10 - 1:23
16 - 1:44
14 - 1:35
6 - 1:30
5 - 1:36
Galena to Ruby
7 - :49 min
10 - :46
16 - :47
6 - :43
14 - :46
The next several hours of racing will be interesting. The pack is still tight, in the grand scheme of things, but Team 7 does still have a considerable lead as well. As everyone knows, machines break down, people break down, and nothing is certain in racing, especially in the Iron Dog.