It’s another nail-biter! I think each one of these races takes years off my life…. : )
So, a predicted, the first team into UNK (Unalakleet), the first checkpoint on the coast, arrived at 3:30 am (including the “Spring ahead” adjustment for Daylight Savings Time). However, as unpredicted, it wasn’t Jeff! Lance made a bold move running through Kaltag (his typical move, actually, but usually he stops on the trail somewhere along the way) AND NOT stopping to camp along the way to the coast. That truly may be a first. The amazing and notable aspect of this “cutting rest” scenario, is that his team is still moving very well and looked excellent arriving into the village, as viewed on the Iditarod Insider video. We have discussions regularly wondering if these incredible athletes have limits….. A well trained and physically and mentally well-maintained team has all of the appearance of being bionic. We all agree that the mushers are the weakest links in the team. It is absolutely amazing and thrilling to see what these sled dogs are capable of!
Jeff, Lance and Hugh had very similar run times on this long trek to the coast. Hans opted to take his rest on the trail but otherwise appears to be moving very well with comparable speed (if not faster). My old adage was that the sequence in which the teams arrived into UNK was typically how they crossed the finish line in Nome. That has been proven wrong too many times these past few years to put any stock in it this year. A three-hour advantage at this point in the race is truly significant, however. The ability of the teams to try to cut rest this far into the event, at least of any true significance, dwindles rapidly as the miles swish under the runner tails. Depending on the time differential, the speed at which a team is moving must be considerably faster than its competition to alter the outcome with so few trail miles left. That is all assuming that the trail and weather conditions remain friendly. Last year was a great reminder of how Mother Nature can shake things up!
I would be remiss without mentioning a bit about human nature at this point. Most of us have grown up in the black hat/white hat theatre of competition. Guard yourself from creating imagined foes. The people that are on the trail with Jeff are some of the most talented, knowledgeable and intuitive dog folks on the planet. Over the decades of the Iditarod, there have been giant leaps in knowledge and experience surrounding the science of dog care, training, race strategy, and most importantly, reverence for these Alaskan Huskies. Winning this prestigious event is a well-earned award and believe me, without trying to sound too “Pollyanna”, these competitors are all winners and should be held in the highest regard for their talents, drive, expertise and love of the sport and of the dogs. They are examples of the very best that is put forward on the 1100 miles of Iditarod trail.
So, what happens now? It would be typical for the teams to rest at least 4 hours and up to 6 hours here before headed to Shaktoolik, the coastal checkpoint known for extreme winds. The Alaska Coast can dole out some bitter challenges to the teams as they make their way along the last 200 miles to Front Street and the burled arch in Nome. Managing the team will be like trying to balance a fine, crystal goblet on the end of your finger. It takes intense focus, impeccable attention to detail and an ability to predict what will happen with the simplest of adjustments. A move too far this way, or that, could cause the cherished crystal to tumble earthward. Have no fear! That is what Jeff just happens to be outstanding at!
I am packing up today for the trip to Nome tomorrow. I think that I am most looking forward to a big, warm, “your-home” hug from our beloved friend and host of many years, Mary Knodel. She is family. And of course, our Nome experience will hold many memories and reminiscences of the past 20 years of race finishes, friends, celebrations and Iditarod life that have become such a part of who we are.
I will continue to post updates! Cheers!