Iditarod 2020 - March 13th

Episode 6 - Ruby to Galena, Friday the 13th, and Batten Down the Hatches.

By Michael Rogers

Friday morning saw the lead pack arrive in Ruby after a long slog through the night.

Ruby sits on hill on the south side of the Yukon River. Photo by Jeff Schultz.

Jesse Royer was the first into the checkpoint at 6:37am with 13 dogs in harness and one rider despite the fact she had a fire on her sled. A bottle of HEET from the cooker ignited in some trash and could have burned the sled up. She was able to extinguish the flames before any significant damage occurred. She wins the “First to the Yukon” Award, a five-course dinner from the chef at Anchorage’s Lakefront Hotel and a special “after dinner mint” of $3500. The cash should replace whatever was lost to the flames.

Nicolas Petit eats his "First to the Yukon River" award dinner presented by the Lakefront Anchorage Hotel in Tanana as he is filmed by the Iditarod Insider's Greg Heister and other media. He shared the meal with Elder Blanche Edwin during the 2017 Iditarod.

Thomas Waerner was hot on her heels at 7:13am with a strong looking team, he took his “Yukon 8” that should keep his team fresh. Aaron Burmeister arrived 1 minute later at 7:14am followed by Brent Sass at 7:50a. The chase pack of Diehl, Ulsom, and Reddington arrived in a glut an hour later followed by the rest of the front pack. 

Thomas Waerner recieves the Jerry Austin Rookie of the year award from DeeDee Jonrowe at the finishers banquet in Nome during Iditarod 2015.  Photo by Jeff Schultz.

Royer was the first out of Ruby and made exceptional time to Galena despite the sticky warm snow. She was followed by Brent Sass who picked up supplies and mushed on toward to Nulato at Mile 582. At this writing, the rest of the front pack has piled into Galena and are taking a variety of rest strategies. Waerner and Burmeister have already taken their 8s and can leave whenever they want. At this point, the race can go to almost any of the top dozen and they’ll leapfrog from checkpoint to checkpoint until they hit the coast.  If teams get too competitive with each other too early in the race, they’ll risk burning out their dogs. 

Brent Sass smiles as the first musher to the Koyuk checkpoint during the 2016 Iditarod. Photo by Jeff Schultz.

The racing action is excellent, but remember there are still 500 miles to go.

Ray Redington Jr. Arrives at Nulato Checkpoint in a previous race. Photo by Jeff Schultz

The weather around the Norton Sound continues to deteriorate with a Winter Storm Warning in effect until Sunday morning. The forecast is for warm temperatures, high winds and heavy snow. Travel is expected to be difficult to impossible and mushers may have to seek shelter for a portion of the storm in one of the shelter cabins that dot the landscape. The Norton Sound coast is known for its ferocious weather blowing in from the Arctic Ocean and is considered a factor in every Iditarod. 

Rick Swenson 10 miles from Nome during a blizzard back in '88..
Photo by Jeff Schultz

From the back of the pack, Red Lantern Quince Mountain is turning in some very respectable run times but is spending an extraordinary amount in camp and checkpoints. He overstayed his 24 by 5 hours in McGrath, spent 12 hours in Rohn, 11 hours in Nikolai and camped for 10 hours in Rainy Pass. He’s still got his Yukon 8 to take, but he’s got to get to the Yukon to take it! He’s currently at mile 355, just out of Ophir where he spent 6 hours.

Quince Mountain of Mountain Wisconsin at the starting line.
Photo by Jeff Schultz.

Veteran musher Nils Hahn scratched this morning in McGrath at 8:00am, he had 13 dogs in harness. He was the third musher to scratch from the 2020 Iditarod. Veteran musher Alan Eischens also scratched in McGrath with 11 dogs on the line at 9:00am. He is the fourth musher to exit the race. 

Alan Eischens portrait on the banks of the Yukon River during the 2015 Iditarod. Photo by Jeff Schultz.

The Shaktoolik checkpoint has been moved to the outskirts of town due to Covid-19 exposure concerns from local residents. Teams will still have fuel, food, drop bags, and straw but no other amenities the checkpoints normally offer. I’d anticipate more checkpoints adopting this kind of stance as they have high numbers of elders living there with limited access to medical care.

Teams Rest in Sun at Shaktoolik. Photo by Jeff Schultz.

While the weather, dog problems, and even sled fires are the normal sort of challenges the Iditarod throws at contenders; Covid-19 is proving to be an unexpected player in 2020.

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