Well, it appears as though Jeff’s concerns for the trail were unnecessary. The teams are all moving very well. There are very few dropped dogs and the teams are still relatively bunched up. Those are all signs of a good trail, but not a super-fast trail. The stats and Tracker this morning show teams well under way across the Burn. From Rohn to Nikolai is a stretch of trail that can make a musher’s knees wobbly by just hearing someone say “The Burn”. It is notoriously a snow-less, rough trail through an old forest fire area. Because the trees are gone, the wind blows all of the snow 100 miles away. What is usually left for a trail is rocks, tussocks, and ice. Many teams will ship their valuable second sled to Nikolai or McGrath because damage is sure to have occurred somewhere over the trail through the Steppes, the Gorge, the Buffalo Tunnel or the Burn. This stretch of trail also provides the thrill of roaming buffalo. Having said all that, this year The Burn is trying to redeem itself. We have had reports of plenty of snow there for a couple of months. If it is there over time, the snow is likely to have settled and will be less likely to blow away. That is not to say that there won’t be blowing snow; it is quite likely if there is any wind at all. But there will be a snowy trail for dog’s feet and sled runners at least. As I write this, Jeff is half way to Nikolai and making good time. Generally, the teams are arriving in Nikolai by noon today.
So far Jeff is running the race as planned. He wanted to be in the top 20 by Skwentna and then try to “hang” in the 5th-10th spot for a while. It looks like he may have dropped a dog in Rohn. I should find out more about that later today. While most of the hazards are behind them now, I still don’t foresee the teams spreading out too much for a while. Of course they will begin taking their first mandatory break. This 24+ hour stop is taken at the checkpoint-of- choice by each team. The time will include the time-adjustment from the race start. It is very likely that Jeff and our team will be resting in their favorite 24-hour checkpoint, Takotna. He is prepared to go farther down the trail if conditions are right. I heard some talk about having shipped plenty of food and gear to Iditarod as well. We will soon see. These varying break locations can produce confusion for us spectators. Get out the calculator because if you truly want to be on top of it, your mathematical skills will be tested!
It is too soon for me to be commenting on the other teams. I believe this has been a forgiving trail and I am sure there are plenty of shining teams right now. I’ll stick my neck out when the first teams hit the coast in Unalakleet! Pre-race, I thought to keep my eye on the Norwegian, Bjornar Andersen. We have a soft spot for Norwegians and they have historically proven to be avid competitors. I’m sure Sebastian Schnuelle, this year’s Quest Champ, would love to pull a “Mackey”. He is a happy, crazy German that captivates your heart. Rick Swenson, as always, is running a beautiful race and should never be disregarded. Martin Buser is showing some uncharacteristic restraint that may have big payoffs down the trail. And Lance Mackey is always full of surprises. This will undoubtedly be a spectacular race to watch!
Stay up close and personal on www.iditarod.com and be sure to subscribe to the Iditarod Inside and The Tracker! It’s a blast!