Saturday, February 13, 2010

YQ Day 8 - AM Report

OK, it's official.  I've been following long-distance sled dog races for about 17 or 18 years, and this year's Yukon Quest officially ranks within the top 3 for sheer excitement and remarkability.  "Officially" to the extent that I can claim to be 'official', in any event.

Just before hitting the rack last night Hans Gatt had been several hours in Scroggie Creek, and Lance Mackey and Hugh Neff had either just arrived or was rapidly approaching.  Hans, with several hours of rest for his gang, bailed out of the dog drop 10 minutes after midnight.  Lance gave chase at 00:49 followed by Hugh Neff at 00:51.  Thus, after making the run from Dawson in one leg, Hugh's dogs had no more than 4 hours of rest, and Lance's team got only 3 1/2.  The Live Tracker shows these three teams about a third of the way to Pelly Crossing, with Hans no more than a mile ahead of Mackey, and Neff only about three miles behind.

Two of the frontrunners, Hans and Lance, dropped dogs at Scroggie Creek, so all three are now running teams of 13.  That doesn't necessarily indicate problems, though.  They may well have taken as many dogs as allowed to add some power for the climb over King Solomon's Dome and the run through the Black Hills, and then dropped slower dogs in order to have a faster overall team now that they've left the most difficult terrain behind.  In other words, dropping a couple of dogs at Scroggie Creek was as likely a matter of strategy as one of team condition.

Lance is famous, or perhaps the better word is 'notorious', for making big race-changing moves in the second half of long-distance races.  He trains his teams to run wildly variable run/rest schedules so they aren't thrown off their rhythm when he asks for exceptionally long runs or stops for particularly short periods.  I think that so long as they adequate rest at the next stop he can probably get away with this move.  Whether or not it will have a detrimental effect on Hugh Neff's team is difficult for me to say.

Although the leader board doesn't yet reflect it, Live Tracker data indicates that Zach Steer is currently resting his dogs at Scroggie Creek, and has been there at least an hour and 1/2.  Zach seems to be holding his fourth place position very nicely, but a development only a wee bit behind him may challenge that position. 

Sonny Lindner has apparently passed Ken Anderson and is approaching the Scroggie Creek drainage.  10 minutes ago his SPOT device recorded he was about 2 to 3 miles out of the dog-drop, moving at about 7 1/2 mph.  Ken Anderson is easily 7 or 8 miles behind Sonny, still well up in the hills and running at about the same speed.  Brent Sass is a mile or so past the switchbacks coming out of the Black Hills, putting him some 10 to 12 miles, well over an hour's run, behind Ken. Apparently Sonny came to race, and passing these two fast, experienced mushers is almost certain to earn him a higher place on the leader-board when the teams reach the finish line in Whitehorse. 

Abbie West's SPOT device is either turned off or is malfunctioning.  I can't find her icon on the Live Tracker to determine where she may be.  It looks like Josh Cadzow is in the vicinity of the Indian River bridge at the entrance to the Black Hills, apparently camping with his team.

Today's issue of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner has 3 articles about the Quest.  "Dog handlers have just as hard a Quest as mushers" describes some of the challenges faced by the racer's 'pit crews'.  "Dog teams head out in hopes of catching Hans Gatt on Quest trail" recaps much of what I just wrote, and "2010 Quest is scratch free...thus far"takes notice of how remarkable it is that all 24 mushers who started the race are still out there on the trail.

According to the Yukon Quest Facebook page, that just changed.  Posted just a few seconds ago, "Gerry Willomitzer left Dawson City, but as he approached King Soloman's Dome he ran into some trouble. The runner plastic on his sled just would not stay on. Therefore he realized the amount of work this would place on his dogs, as the journey was becoming more and more difficult. He decided it was best to return to Dawson City and call it an end to his race."

Denali Doubles is Dash for the Cash

Meanwhile, there is some serious racing action in Jeff King's Denali Doubles dog sled race.  The leader-board shows that the leaders of the race are out of Alpine Creek Lodge inbound, heading for the finish line.  The team of Kaduce/Bailey left Alpine at 5:24 this morning, followed by DeCaro/Sheftel at 5:36, the SP Kennels "Black Team" of Allen Moore & Bridgett Watson at at 5:40 and the team of Seavey/Seavey at 6:10.  That is going to be a very close and exciting finish.

Something in the Woods

There is something wandering in the woods outside the dog yard this morning, and my gang of fuzz-butts is telling me ALL about it.  I've been outside several times with a very powerful searchlight but haven't been able to see it.  The dogs are being very persistent, so I'm guessing it is probably a moose.  Most predators would beat feet out of the area when the dogs first sound off, disrupting the hunt.  Moose don't seem to worry about dog teams very much, and it's much too early for bears to be out an about, even though recent weather has been unusually warm for February.  I'm hoping the team will settle down once they've been fed their breakfast.

Quest Update (10:00 am AST)

Of our leaders, Hans Gatt appears to be resting his team at the Stepping Stone hospitality stop while Lance Mackey and Hugh Neff are moving toward the checkpoint at Pelly Crossing.  Ken Anderson is on the trail in fourth place, some 20 miles or so past the Scroggie Creek dog, where Zach Steer and Sonny Lindner appear to be resting their teams.  Brent Sass has just dropped out of the hills approaching Scroggie Creek, and is within 10 miles.  Josh Cadzow has extended his lead over Abbie West and is approaching the switchbacks coming off the Black Hills.  Abbie's last SPOT position report was over two hours ago, so it's possible she is much closer than the Live Tracker indicates.

I've just come in from feeding, scooping and lovin' up on the dogs and am planning to run a team this afternoon.  Since I didn't hear back from a mushing buddy last night to say whether or not his wife's 'honey do' list would allow him to hit the trail today, I'm assuming that he is tied up and I'll probably repeat the run from a few days ago, up to the ponds and back.  I'm planning to run Amazing Grace in single lead to see how she does with gee / haw cues.  Since she has led over this route before I am setting her up for success, but one never knows what's what until trying.  I'll hook up Just (a very solid leader) and Rose (another leader in training) in swing, so if Grace has difficulty I can move one of them up to help her out.

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