Pete and the Team are about 5 miles out of Shaktoolik. His time really isn’t too bad. I don’t think it is as fast as last year and the temperature is quite a bit colder. I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes a break at the checkpoint before heading north. At these temperatures, I imagine a stop in a checkpoint with water for the dogs is preferable to one out on the ice.
Tonight’s stretch is one of the most mentally challenging of the race. Once the Team leaves the tundra and heads out over the ice, they will lose perspective and it will just seem like they are on a treadmill. As they go out on the ice farther, it becomes harder and harder to even sense that you are moving. In the night I would think it might almost be better because you won’t see anything but the trailmarkers. That might even be an advantage over doing the stretch in the daylight.
I honestly believe that Pete is within striking distance of Mitch Seavey and quite possibly even John Baker. Both of those mushers appear to be a little slower. We’ll see how the times look in Koyuk. That will really determine whether Pete moves up, or waits for attrition of another team in front.
This trail has GOT to be better that it was for the Paul Johnson Memorial 450. If you remember, he got to within 5 miles of Koyuk and the trail stopped and was surrounded by house size ice chunks. At that point in the race, all of his competitors caught up with him as they waited for snowmachines to come out from Koyuk and lead them into the checkpoint. Since that time, the Iron Dog has run and the trial is bound to be a virtual highway. But that race was memorable if nothing else!!
Winds have switched direction a bit so Pete and the Team will have a tailwind of sorts.
Koyuk -11F Calm Winds
Shaktoolik -17 Wind SW 8mph
- Shaktoolik from the Air
Miles of Miles of Ice and Snow
From the Iditarod website-
Shaktoolik to Koyuk
There is only one thing to say about this leg—bleak, flat, and deadly monotonous. Locals say the actual distance is under 50 miles, but it always seems like a hundred. There is not so much as a shrub on this stretch, most of which is over the sea ice of Norton Bay. Plan on five to nine hours for the crossing, more if the wind is blowing hard.
The trail runs almost due north from Shaktoolik, overland across very low rolling terrain for about nine miles to Reindeer Cove, then across the ice for five miles to Island Point, then back onto the ice immediately for the last 45 miles to Koyuk. There are no hills.
The trail is also the main snowmachine trail to Koyuk and is well used. However, winds can wipe it smooth in hours. It is well marked with Iditarod trail stakes, spruce boughs, or both. The trail can range from a groomed speedway to rough ice to drifted snow to glare ice. The wind is usually blowing, and almost always right in your face. Days with less than 20 or 30 mph breezes are uncommon. The wind can blow at hurricane velocity out here and ground blizzards can reduce visibility to zero in minutes. You MUST check the weather carefully before heading out. If you get caught in a storm on the ice, you will be in very serious trouble.
Another problem is that some dogs are put off by the white expanse and won’t go or will try to turn back. Every year teams stall here; some drivers are able to get their teams going after a rest, and some can get their leaders to follow another team across. Some have to scratch. This is where a “coast leader” is invaluable; these are leaders used to running in this environment and who aren’t fazed by winds or wide-open spaces.