I enjoyed a pleasant evening including a home-cooked meal and a movie with a friend in town. I'm sure I was more comfortable than the mushers out on the Yukon Quest Trail.
This morning I see that Zach Steer and Hugh Neff have only just left the checkpoint at Circle, heading down the ice covered Yukon River toward Eagle. Hugh has dropped 1 dog thus far, and Zach still has his full compliment of 14. Both rested their teams for about 6 hours before dropping onto the ice. Data from the SPOT GPS tracker in Zach's sled shows him trotting along at about 8 1/2 miles per hour at the time the data was transmitted. Hugh's SPOT unit showed him at only 5.1 but he may have been maneuvering around jumble ice when the data was transmitted.
According to the Yukon Quest's official facebook page, Lance Mackey is also back on the trail out of Circle, though that isn't yet showing on either the leader-board or live tracker.
The rest of this morning's "top 10" are still resting in Central, including Hans Gatt, Gerry Wollomitzer, Sonny Lindner, Abbie West, Brent Sass, Josh Cadzow and Dave Dalton. The only real contender I see not yet in Circle is Ken Anderson, and I'd be dollars against donuts that he decided to camp on the trail and will likely not stop long when he does arrive.
These teams are entering a long stretch, about 160 miles, with little in the way of relief. There is a dog drop at Slaven's Cabin, about 60 miles from Circle, where mushers can drop dogs from their team if they need to, but otherwise there is only the river. The most recent report is that the mushers will have to deal with about 7 miles of jumble ice leaving Circle. Jumble ice occurs when the river current pushes large blocks of ice against each other under incredible pressure. Huge blocks are upended and tossed about to form a tangle of hard, dangerous obstructions the mushers and times must wind their way through.
In spite of this report, most of the news from the river is that is quite smooth compared to previous years. That should make for some good, fast times into the next official checkpoint of Eagle.
Over the next couple of days we will likely see the field spreading out some. The faster racers will make up a group of front-runners that will be pretty clearly defined by the time they reach the half-way point of Dawson. A second group of contenders will also be pretty easy to define, probably five or six mushers vying for the higher paying finishing positions. Then we'll see a large "middle of the pack" group, followed by a few stragglers. Heading out of Dawson, anyone leaving within 6 hours of the race leader has a shot at winning. Much longer than that, given the fierce competition in this field, would be very hard pressed to make up the time.
About Dropping Dogs: According to Yukon Quest rules, mushers can "drop" dogs at any official checkpoint, designated 'dog drops'. Quest rules also allow mushers to drop dogs in between checkpoints or dog drops for emergency medical reason, though they may receive a time penalty for doing so. Realistically, there are very few people living in that country who could care for a dropped dog so it's unlikely that a musher would leave a dog in between checkpoints or dog drops.
Race veterinarians are stationed at checkpoints and dog drops, and do a wonderful job of working with the mushers to ensure the health and safety of the dogs. There is no such service available to the mushers, BTW. If necessary, the race marshal or a race judge in conjunction with a race veterinarian can require a musher to drop a dog, though usually the musher makes the decision long before officials get involved.
Dogs may be dropped for a variety of reasons. Injury or illness is obvious, but sometimes a dog just isn't performing quite up to par. Sometimes a musher will drop a slower dog if s/he is slowing the entire team and the musher feels she or he won't need the additional power on the trail ahead. A musher might drop a female that comes into estrus (heat), especially if she is overly distracting to her teammates. It's not uncommon for a musher to drop a dog just because the dog doesn't seem to be having fun anymore.
Dogs dropped at checkpoints or dog drops located along the highway system are handed over to the care of the musher's handlers. Those at more remote checkpoints or dog drops are flown to a road accessible location or to Fairbanks or Whitehorse, where they can be returned to the owner or the owner's handlers.