The weather across the Seward Peninsula and the western coast of Alaska today remained cold and windy as teams began making their way south toward the Yukon River. At 18 below zero in Buckland this morning, a stiff breeze pushed the windchill to more than 40 below zero. Racers reported that 'the weather is nasty!' across the peninsula but cleared up as the sun began to rise near Koyuk, where racers made a fuel stop in that checkpoint for a third time in this race. Team 2 Dahle/Dohrn were forced from the race late yesterday after what seems like a pretty nasty crash. This team made a great push along the Iron Dog trail coming all the way up from Minnesota. Race veteran Tyson Johnson who decided to sit this race out was in communication with Dahle who told him 'Never again' in regards to running again. Johnson indicated this is generally the feel for how brutal this race is, but often those bad memories don't stick around and we see many teams back on the trail year after year. We hope this is the case for Team 2. In yesterday's update we mentioned Chad Gueco of Team 8 having to replace the muffler on his Ski-Doo machine. In an official statement from Team 8 (Chad's wife Jayme), they ran into similar troubles again today: 'Yesterday Chad’s machine caught fire. Then 200 miles out of Kotzebue Cody’s blew out. So they have had to repair both mufflers and then a shock and rear suspension. Lots of work!! They won’t quit tho. Determined to carry those machines over the finish line if they have to.' Team 39 has had a broken ski on one of their machines for hundreds of miles. On my call with Kyle Conner of Team 30, he was talking to Team 39 about the missing ski and it didn't seem to be enough damage to slow them down. Below you can see the entire front half of the ski is missing everything forward from where the loop attaches. In addition to the two instances of rear skid repairs for Team 21 yesterday, they again found themselves towing one of their Ski-Doo machines into Buckland this morning due to another broken rear torque arm. As of 5:00PM, the GPS from the Hale brothers was showing them back out on the trail and making progress. Team 30 Conner/Elder also ran into issues on the trail near Unalakleet where it was reported that Conner had some semblance of a wreck which forced them to beg for or borrow parts from the locals nearby. They have since sourced a new windshield and also rivets for one of the skis on their Polaris machines. I was able to talk to Team 30 on the phone last night and both racers were in incredibly good spirts. They indicated this is the fastest they have ever ran this race and feel the entire field has elevated their game. One point they wanted to stress for me to pass along was the incredible outpouring of support form the villages all along the trail and especially along the Kotzebue loop. Everything from high-fives from kids along the trail to the first-class filet mignon meal in Kotzebue itself, they've been blown away by the hospitality. There was some speculation if teams would make the push from Kotzebue all the way to McGrath today or stop in Galena. Most people did not think this was going to happen, but the front-running teams felt differently about the armchair quarterbacking from fans. Team 6 was given a bit of breathing room near Galena where according to an official Iron Dog post 'Weisz collided with Bryan Leslie of Team 14, and his sled windshield was one of the casualties'. The photo below shows one of their sleds missing a windshield and a helmet without a front visor. Running the same tune from BRP that Team 8 is running, Team 6 was forced to change one of their mufflers in Galena before setting the pace and leading the pack out of Ruby. The trail between Ruby, Poorman, and Ophir can be challenging and physically taxing on a good day let alone having ridden for the prior 10 hours. Total distance between Kotzebue and McGrath is 748 miles, which is an astonishingly long run for a single day in this race. For a bit of perspective, think about the time you drove your own personal vehicle more than 700 miles in a day, with climate control, cruise control, and a litany of other creature comforts. Doing the same thing on a snowmachine in sub-zero temperatures, while racing across remote Alaska wilderness is nearly unthinkable. With Team 6 a considerable distance in the lead, Teams 5 and 14 are still very much in the thick of racing along the Yukon River toward Ruby. Youth might play a role in this decision to push this distance through rough terrain. Time will tell.
Thanks Kyle for the great update. Go Polaris !
Steve Martin April 17, 2021