The race will get lively now that teams are leaving their 24′s behind and settling into the race ahead. It will become a bit clearer to us bleary-eyed computer addicts what is actually happening on the trail.
A note about the 24′s (as we watch more teams going farther down the trail each year); when Jeff won the Iditarod in 1993, he took his 24 in Takotna. At that time it was the farthest down the trail that a team had successfully completed the break and gone on to win the race. The trend now is to continue down the trail to the half-way point and beyond. I believe that the increased knowledge of dog care and maintenance in addition to the knowledge being acquired every year on the amazing capabilities and potential of a well-managed team of Alaskan Huskies has produced strong competitive dogs and teams. Each team must make the decision based on the needs of the entire team at that point in the race.
As I wait from news from Ophir, I will recap a bit of my conversations with Jeff from his 24 hour break in Takotna: Overall, Jeff was relaxed and very content with all that had happened in his race so far. He is thrilled with the appetite of the entire team in addition to the overall soundness of every single dog. He said that he has never had a better team at this point in the race, also noting that he has also never seen the depth of great teams around him either. Kilarney (from the Irish litter named after Cali spent a semester in Galway, brother Dublin in also in the team) is “nearly spectacular”, going way too fast and trying way too hard. The rest of the team is not ready for her. Neither are they ready for Berkeley (from the litter of colleges, brother UConn is also in the team) to be at the helm. Jeff described her as a “devil woman” the first few days of the race; screaming and charging ahead. He is glad they stopped in Takotna so that she can back off a bit. She is working way too hard. The team was moving so fast in the Burn that Dickens couldn’t keep up comfortably so he gave her a three hour ride into Nikolai and was then later able to put her back into lead and she lead the team into Takotna. Sussex (from the litter born to superstar, Spaniel, and named for types of spaniels, brother Charles in also in the team) had been brilliant, steady, easy and steers beautifully. He said that he has never had more dogs willing to lead and do what they are doing now. The team’s performance has solidified. He personally has not been cold at all and is enjoying the warm temperatures. In Takotna, the dogs have been very alert and eating really well. Bronte and Dickens (from the famous authors litter) were loose yesterday and visiting spectators, rubbing up against them like cats begging for butt-scratches. Seeing the team leave this morning on the Insider tells it all.
A couple of surprises from behind this morning! Hans Gatt and Rick Swenson are off their 24′s and right with the front of the pack. Lance’s team benefitted well from the rest and appears to be ready to roll in style again this morning. The temperatures are reported to stay in the 20′s and 30′s for the next few days.
So, my best guess is that most of the teams now coming off their 24′s will run straight to Cripple and 8 hour there. It depends on how slow the trail is. If Jeff ran straight through that would have them running through the afternoon, something he tries to avoid. So, we’ll see what happens next!