The first 339 miles of this Iron Dog trail proved to be a tough one for several teams yesterday and again today. We have seen a total of five teams scratch from the race, four more added to the list from yesterdays report of Team 33 who suffered a lumbar strain which caused a considerable amount of pain. Team 44 reportedly blew their track shocks coming into Skwentna via a Facebook post.
Adding to the carnage, Team 37 posted "Not the way this was supposed to go. But going through ptarmigan pass just before the Southfork. Ben snapped his rear track shock and blew out his front track shock. He rode it to Rohn hoping there would be parts on a plane. No luck though. Hoping we could get parts in McGrath we carried on. In the processed Ben wrecked himself riding it like that. We took turns but the damage was done. So with no parts and an injury we were forced to scratch. To say we're upset is an understatement."
By Iron Dog standards, the run up toward the coast of Alaska wasn't earth shattering but I'd challenge anyone else to race 413 miles through the remainder of the Alaska range and down the Yukon river which includes the trail section between Ophir and Poorman. This is a very remote and isolated section of trail, not often used, and littered with deep ravines, creek crossings, trees in sections of the trail, and a mixed bag of snow conditions. This is what the top section of teams did today as they pushed toward Unalakleet to declare a 16 hour layover. Team 7, Tyler Aklestad and Nick Olstad were first to arrive just before sunset.
After McGrath, northbound, all teams have had their starting time adjusted based on the two minute intervals out of the starting chute on Big Lake. This now means that if you're physically in front, you're winning the race. Team 7 is in a very familiar place right now...out in front. I got a little bit of light hearted ribbing last season when I posted my personal opinion that it seems that Tyler Aklestad seemed to be the fastest rider...in the world...on a sled in a cross country race. Of course its fun to joke about now but that did spark great conversation. Team 7's position is giving a little justice to that theory as of late.
The most notable absence from having to scroll on the leaderboard to see their names are Team 10, Mike Morgan and Chris Olds. Via their team Facebook page, it's being reported that 'Chris made it to Ruby. Mike is slowly headed this way. Let the parts shopping begin. Word is suspension troubles.'
Both Team 10 and Team 9 rode to Ruby without rear track shocks. Troy Conlon (pictured below on the ground) reported they broke 40 miles outside of Ophir. You can see in the photo below circled in red that there are no linkage bars or rear track shock in the undercarriage suspension of the sled. This would have undoubtedly made for a very painful and back breaking ride.
Cody Worley and Blake Elder of Team 30 ran into a slight snag as well. As racers aren't allowed to make repairs off the clock, the duo sprung into action on the clock about 8:45 this morning and took some time to get their auxiliary lights working (which they were able to sort out). While inspecting the sleds, they saw that Elder had lost a bushing and bolt on his suspension so they called an hour layover to round up parts. As of 10:19 am, their pilot was reporting they were fixed and back on the trail.
With 758 miles checked off the books for this race, the teams are seeing a familiar attrition in the first quarter of the race in terms of broken parts, wrecks, and teams having to throw in the towel. While the first (and will be the last) section of trail is tough on sleds and racers, the river and coastal sections can be tough on the mind and body in a sense that often they are fighting incredibly daunting weather, whiteout conditions, and sometimes an impossibly hard trail to follow.