I promised a top three by tonight, but can’t deliver on my promise. The combination of a variety of rest-run cycles, and some speed issues showing up make it impossible to say who the top three are right now (Sat eve). Jeff King seems to have the edge overall, although he currently is running in second place. Aaron Burmeister has the lead but still must take an 8 hour layover in Kaltag, where that lead will likely disappear. King will likely stop 5-6 hour there and head for Unalakleet, probably a non-stop run.
King has taken three long runs since his 24 hour in Galena, and they have not required long stops when he rested at Huslia and Koyukuk. Others have had less of a pattern, and are harder to predict as a result. Aliy Zirkle still has to finish her 8 hour, and she is currently in third. She and Burmeister not only have to contend with finishing their 8 hour rest, they also have the slowest average moving speed among the contenders. It is hard to make a team go faster than they are used to traveling for any great period of time. Thus, those two teams would have to stay on the trail longer than their competition to win.
Dallas Seavey has been lurking just behind the leaders, and traveling a bit faster when he moves. He is defending champion and will be in this race until the finish. He is a bit further back than he would like to be at this stage, but traveling faster as he is, he will likely be well in the mix on the coast. Mitch Seavey has a little less speed and is further back, but don’t count him out just yet.
[UPDATE]Dallas has turned it up a notch on his last run, and in so doing emerges as the team to beat. He averaged about 10 mph coming into Nulato. With that kind of speed still available at this stage of the race, the defending champion has to be favored to repeat.
A surprising name has moved into the discussion in the last two days. Jessie Royer had a blazing fast run from Galena to Huslia and is still moving well, running just ahead of Dallas Seavey right now. She has the highest average moving speed of all the front runners, a full half mile an hour faster than Dallas, and a full mile per hour faster than Aaron. Two others just behind with high speeds are Pete Kaiser and Joar Ulsom. These teams with high speed coming up from behind have excellent prospects for moving higher.
Among the other rural teams, John Baker has continued a slow but steady climb, now running in 13th place. John has often moved up late in races, and especially in those races where weather is a factor. His Kotzebue training comes in handy when it’s cold. Another team moving up is Thomas Waerner, from Norway. The Norway teams that have done well in previous races have done so with slower moving teams that stay on the trail long hours. He seem to be following that trend.
The cold weather that has dominated the race seems to be waning which must be appealing to the racers. One thing that racers rarely do is complain about the weather, because they have long ago realized it makes little sense to do so. An occasional glimpse into life on the trail at -40 tells us all we need to know. Several mushers have frostbite, and some have mentioned the tough time getting any rest during trail stops. Huslia is known as a very cold village, and it surely didn’t disappoint this year. It is believed that the temps hit -50 in certain locations along the rivers. Dog racers are well familiar with the feeling of dropping off a bank onto a river and having the temp drop several degrees in about 10 feet. When it is 40 below in the checkpoint, that sudden drop is alarming, when you consider you are starting on a several hour river run. Now that I no longer face that situation as a mostly retired racer, I wonder “what was I thinking ?”
Myron Angstman is a veteran of the Iditarod and past champion of the Kuskokwim 300 and John Beargrease sled dog races. He practices law in Bethel, Alaska. For more dog race stuff, check his website at angstmanlawoffice.com