It is hard to believe that 48 hours hasn’t even passed since the teams left Willow on Sunday. Already they seem so far into the race. For Jeff and many of the frontrunners, the worst of the trail is now behind them. They can breath a little easier and focus on the trail ahead. Many have left the checkpoint of Rohn and are negotiating the trail through The Burn, an area that was devastated by forest fire in the 80′s creating a large section of trail that is unprotected by trees. The wind blows relentlessly in this area making it difficult for any snow to take hold. These wind-blown sections of trail can be difficult to negotiate by presenting challenges including gravel, dirt and tussocks. The dogs generally have no problem making their way down the trail, but the musher and sled tend to absorb the rough and tumble of the surface. Each team is allowed to send out a second sled along the trail and many choose to send their replacement to McGrath. This second sled can be of a lighter build than the bomb-proof variety needed to travel the Alaska Range. Having a replacement sled also alleviates the need to spend time repairing the old one that has been damaged by the rough trail.
The trail so far this year appears to be very good; hard and fast. The run times and the large teams indicate a good trail surface. The warmer temperatures are also in favor of the dogs and mushers alike. Maintaining the weight and hydration of all involved is much easier at these moderate temperatures.
Our friend, Rod Keift, was in the Rainy Pass checkpoint yesterday while Jeff and his team were there resting. Rob reported that Jeff was in great spirits and the dogs looked great, eating well and comfortable. It was overcast and snowing. The Iditarod website is also predicting some weather ahead which potentially shakes things up a bit depending on how it affects the trail surface. Jeff is about an hour and a half ahead of his schedule from the 2006 race at this point.
One of the significant findings from Rod’s report is that, disappointingly, the mileages and checkpoint locations on the Live Tracker are inaccurate. If you were avidly following the stats and Tracker yesterday, you would have guessed that Jeff and the team were rested 10 miles past the Rainy Pass checkpoint. They actually rested in the checkpoint. I believe that the Tracker information is likely to be consistent when reporting the relative location of musher to musher, but the mileages and relationship to the checkpoints is inaccurate. Ah, well, valiant effort. I suspect that distance between the GPS points is calculated “as the crow flies” and the actual trail miles are significantly longer. I’m sure that some very smart and diligent person will eventually work that all out for next year!
I will refrain from making any grandiose race predictions or revelations at this point. It is simply too early to do so. The only significant reports would be of some substantial bad luck that would alter someone’s entire race. Jeff always says that the only good luck he ever needs or wants is the absence of bad luck. At this point there are many strong looking teams driven by many strong and experienced mushers. It will be a great race!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Jason, Dave, Jennifer and Carrie are keeping life going between checking the stats and watching the Iditarod Insider. Dave has taken his job of training the All Alaska Sweepstakes team very seriously and will be “focused on the task” for the next two weeks. It is warm and sunny, a brilliant spring day.
For the best updates check out: www.iditarod.com.