Jeff and team are back on the trail!  They departed Iditarod at 17:04 after completing his 24 hour layover.

The Iditarod Insider posted an interview with Jeff last night that appeared to be conducted along the trail from Ophir to Iditarod.  That video also showed some footage of the team traveling along that stretch in a windstorm, and wow – that wind was whipping!  It surely didn’t look very pleasant.  As we continued to hear reports from other teams arriving into Iditarod after Jeff, many echoed the same sentiment – snow and wind, with little trail to follow, and the trail you were leaving?  Well, it drifted over quickly.

As we look forward to what’s ahead on the trail, the weather continues to throw wrench into things.  It’s been a number of years since there has been this much snow on the trail, let alone this much snow and blowing occurring. The trail that Jeff is currently running is another isolated section of trail with no human habitation for the entire route – no cabins, no nothing.  What’s big on this section?  The hills.  Lots of hills.  From Don Bowers, Jr.’s trail overview at  “Some veterans say there are nine big hills, some say thirteen, some say more. The first one is within ten miles after leaving Iditarod and the last one is within ten miles of Shageluk. Most of the bigger climbs are in the 500- to 1000-foot range, and some are fairly steep in a few places. Some of the downhill’s are a bit sporty as well.”  So… nine, or 13?  Wonder how many Jeff counts?  No matter how many hills there are, the trail from Iditarod to Shageluk is really only put in once every two years, and often only for this race.  Teams arriving in Shageluk have said that the wind was blowing, and with fresh snow their visibility was very poor.  Those two things make a recipe for a slow, strenuous, 55 mile run.

Shageluk:  “Population 139 — The name is an Ingalik Indian name meaning “village of the dog people,” and when the Iditarod hits town, that is especially true. Adolph Hamilton, who lives here, helped race organizers find the original trail to the town of Iditarod, even though he had only been over it once, many years before with his father, as a small boy. The checkpoint is in the community hall.”

The weather has of course been affecting flying, too.  All of this snow has lowered the ceiling, and that has some staff, crew, volunteers and media still sitting in checkpoints hours after they were scheduled to travel further along the trail.  Another big curveball is that the Eagle Island checkpoint has not even been set up.  Yes, you read that correctly.  While that’s still 160 miles from where Jeff is, that kind of change can be huge to teams that were not prepared for it.  Eagle Island will now become a Hospitality Stop (those of you that followed Alex on the Quest may be familiar with those!) instead of a checkpoint.  There will be a vets, heet for making hot water, and they will be accepting dropped dogs – but there will be no resupply here for the teams.  The Iditarod Trail Committee has been hoping to have those Eagle Island drop bags in Grayling so that teams can resupply with larger quantities, take those supplies with them, and stop along the now 102 mile stretch of trail from Grayling to Kaltag.

Dropped dog:
Swenson was left behind in Iditarod.  Yes, we know he looked SO excited to go in the photo that Jeff Schultz caught of him in mid-air, but the vets said that he had an odd heart reading and as a precautionary measure he was left in Iditarod and will make his way back home by alternative means.  Fear not, we’ll make sure that he gets plenty of love when he gets home, as well as a full check-up with our vet.

In other dog news, Barnum is in Anchorage and is hanging with Ryan and Ellen.  One of our dog drop contacts, Paul, texted us last night that he had Barnum, and Ellen & Ryan scooped him up today so that they can bring him north with Zig this weekend.  Here’s a pic of the big guy… looking pretty tired out!

Barnum travels first class in the front seat and tries to catch a few zz’s.  Photo:  Ryan Wolcott

In our last blog post we had been hoping to share some information on the checkpoint of Iditarod, and we found something! Dorothy Olmstead is writing for the Iditarod Insider once again this year and has put together – “Iditarod: Gold Rush to Ghost Town“.  Click the link to read and see a few photos!

We’ll have another update for you in the morning… but in the mean time, Jeff is 11 miles outside of Iditarod, and his parting message to us was “What’s not to love?  I’m ready to rock & roll!”.