This is the point in the race where you need to get out your pencil, paper and abacus to figure out “Who’s in first?”. Clearly at this point, Jeff has a good handle on the race but there are so many great teams on the trail, each with its individual, and sometimes hidden, strengths. It is not unusual for a not-so-flashy team to really come on in the second half, or even last quarter, of the event. That is truly what keeps us all (unreasonably) glued to our computers in anticipation of the next gripping moment. Jeff has not had the opportunity to see many other teams moving so, when we chatted yesterday, he could not give me any reports on the competition.
Do not be fooled into thinking that the number of dogs in the team has more significance than it actually has. I remember one of the years that Martin Buser won, he was down to ten dogs in McGrath and finished with nine. Certainly, there is likely some comfort to the musher when looking at a big string of dogs, but remember, each of those amazing athletes requires lots of TLC and that means TIME. At some point, efficiency prevails. If the trail is fast, the number of dogs in the team can reach a point of maximum efficiency (or inefficiency!). Which dog is dropped is usually way more significant; your best leader? your best buddy? The dog count is a way for us spectators to compare teams and contemplate their competitive edge, but again, it is just one of many factors that contribute to the winning ingredients of the team.
There is some confusion over the mileage from Ophir to Cripple. The Cripple checkpoint does tend to move from year to year. It is only a tent camp set up for the race each year. Once we get a gander at some more run times we will be able to calculate the mileage a bit more accurately. Jeff will likely be making his run from Takotna to Cripple in one run. It was his winning move in one of his recent victories. That was the point where his team really turned on and it was very exciting! He should be arriving in to Cripple today around noon.
Dave and Jeff were able to compare notes in Takotna last night before Jeff left from his 24-hour break. Would have loved to be a fly on the wall.