Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Racing Toward the Finish Line

While I was finishing up my annual medic refresher, flying home and doing laundry in preparation for work yesterday, things got VERY interesting out on the Iditarod trail.  Somewhere between Koyuk and Elim Jeff King blinked, and Hans Gatt's team of speedsters ran past him and gave chase to leader Lance Mackey.  All three mushers blew through Golovin like a Bering Sea wind racing toward the 8 hour mandatory layover in White Mountain. 

Mackey started his layover in White Mountain with only a 2 hour lead over Gatt.  With only 60 miles to the finish line, Lance's team of young dogs needs to run like the wind. because Hans  has proved consistently in both the Yukon Quest and in this race that his team has about a 1/2 mile per hour speed advantage.  It's roughly 7 to 8 hours from White Mountain to Nome, if no one stops to rest.  There is no doubt that Gatt will cut that lead considerably but the math alone tells us that Lance will probably prevail, and may even shave some time off Martin Buser's record for the fastest ever Iditarod finish. 

Jeff King isn't out of the race.  Although it's unlikely that he might catch Mackey, his team has been holding it's own, following Gatt into White Mountain by only 26 minutes, and posting a faster run time.  That's interesting to me because up until now King's team has been slightly slower than Gatt's.  It appears the two mean are driving more or less equally fast teams and half an hour of separation equates to only 3 or four miles on the trail. 

All three men are highly motivated.  Mackey has an opportunity to be the first musher in history to win the I'rod four times in a row.  Gatt would love to retire with the high point of an Iditarod victory, and King would be delighted to match tie Rick Swenson's record of 5 Iditarod wins.  There is going to be some serious excitement on Front Street sometime this afternoon. 

There is also a very exciting race for fourth.  Ken Anderson arrived in White Mountain at 2:58 and John Baker pulled in at 3:16.  Baker was just smokin' down the trail from Elim, running at an astounding average of 8.3 miles per hour.  Although probably not sustainable, it shows that Baker's 10 dog team is considerably faster than Anderson's 11 at this stage of the race. 

Hugh Neff and Ramey Smyth are racing for sixth place.  Hugh's team were practically slogging into White Mountain, giving him only a 20 minute lead over Smyth.  Hugh dropped two dogs back in Koyuk, and from the looks of his speed into White Mountain probably had another riding in the sled bag there.  If he isn't careful he could run out of dogs, meaning he could end up reducing his team to a less than optimal number, and end up falling behind his nearest opponent. 

Whether or not others could also pass him by depends upon what's happening out on the trail.  As I write Sebastian Schnelle has apparently just arrived in White Mountain.  It appears that Dallas Seavey is about an hour or so out, followed by no more than 2 miles by his father, Mitch.  There is nothing like a father/son rivalry to produce a lovingly lively competition.  It is the way of young men to want to prove they can kick their Daddy's ass, and the way of men to prove they brought the kid into the world, and can still take them out.

I'm truly sorry that I can't linger in front of the computer today.  I have to make at least three stops in town before heading up the haul road to my jobsite today and before doing that I have to pack two suitcases.  By the time I get back on line I will be at work, stuck with the world's slowest dial-up connection.  I'll try to get another entry posted sometime before midnight, Alaska day-light savings time. 

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