Don’t be getting too excited yet. There is a lot of race trail left before the burled arch in Nome!

Reports on Jeff and his team from the checkpoints are all very positive. They are now most likely tucked snugly into the friendly village of Takotna enjoying their 24 hour (actually more like 26 hours and 40 minutes) break. Jeff has established close friends in Takotna, the village known to “put on the dog” for the mushers and teams. This is a tough spot for Jeff to go through without stopping for a while. Prior to the race, he had two choices of 24 hour break checkpoints, Takotna (at the top of his list) and Ruby (also one of his favorite spots along the trail). There are already a few teams positioning themselves to break at checkpoints farther down the route. Many will be comfortably resting in McGrath and Nikolai. Where each team chooses to take this long, mandatory break can have a significant affect on the team’s performance. Taken too early or too late you can miss the opportunity to maximize the benefits of the rest. A well-timed, long rest such as this one can fuel the tanks and act like jet propulsion for the team.

As you may know, this long break is also where the time differential from the staggered start times is equalized. That is why each team will have a different length of time for this mandatory stop. Once the teams have completed this break, it becomes much easier to follow the race with a clearer vision of what is actually transpiring on the trail. In 2006, Paul Gebhardt stunned us all by going all the way to Galena to take his 24 hour break. He did a brilliant job and finished well that year.

A few observations:

Rick Swenson’s team looked awesome coming into Nikolai (as viewed on the Insider). This could be a great year for him. The first SIX time winner?

There may be a chink in Lance’s armor. It appears that he is struggling to find strong leadership in the team. Not an easy feat with a team of this caliber. It is a rare dog that can lead a large team that is traveling at these speeds for long. A same dog that is challenged to lead at these speeds can easily run back in the team at the same speed (or faster). It is the mental pressure of running in front of a powerful and speedy bunch that can become daunting. Sometimes simply slowing the team down a couple of miles per hour will solve this challenge, but that is not always an easy thing to accomplish when the team overall has the speed and drive.

Mitch is posting fantastic run times and will be fun to watch as his race unfolds. He is taking his long break farther down the trail.

Kjetil and his team sound strong and appear to be moving very well. Again, another team to watch carefully.

And, of course, Paul’s team has been looking very good in the video clips. Yet again, another experienced and savvy driver with a great dog team.

Being the first team down the trail may have some disadvantages (or advantages) if the weather creates trail challenges. Too much snow will slow the frontrunners down as they break trail. In addition, teams generally travel faster when they know they are chasing another team or teams. If however, a team gets far enough down the trail before the weather changes the trail surface, they could get a “jump” on the rest of the pack. Mother Nature always has her fingers in this exciting race!

I heard that the Discovery Channel’s helicopter which is following Rachel Scdoris and Joe Runyan on the Iditarod (owned by Tony Ony) went down in the Dalzell Gorge. Everyone walked away from it and they all are fine but the $800,000 helicopter and $50,000 worth of camera gear and equipment are teetering on a cliff and they aren’t sure how to salvage it.

I look forward to getting a call from Jeff with the low down on each of the dogs, the trail, etc. There is lots going on here today so I hope (if you are reading this, Jeff) that he is persistent! Tomorrow’s blog will include plenty of detail from the trail….