I'm not the only person in Alaska who was awake early. Out on the Iditarod trail front-runners in the Last Great Race are out on the trail putting miles under paws and hopefully miles between their fellow competitors as they head into the second half of the race.
The biggest news overnight comes from the half-way point of Cripple, where Dallas Seavey pulled ahead of John Baker to win the GCI Dorothy Paige Half-Way Award. The award earns Dallas $3,000.00 in gold nuggets. Currently the GPS tracker shows the younger Seavey and John Baker traveling close together en-route for the Yukon River at Ruby. They are followed by Martin Buser, Bruce Linton, Robert Nelson and rookie Michelle Phillips. None of this leading group has yet completed their mandatory 24 hour layover.
The next group of mushers are those who left Takotna after completing their long break, and with rejuvenated teams some of them are traveling at a blistering pace. These mushers are the true leaders of the race by virtue of no longer owing a day of rest. First among them, and already on the trail between Ophir and Cripple, are Jeff King, Hugh Neff, Mitch Seavey, Sebastian Schnuelle, Lance Mackey, Gerry Willomitzer, Sven Haltman, Zach Steer, Aliy Zirkle, Sonny Lindner. Hans Gatt, Cim Smyth and Ramey Smyth are all in Ophir.
To get an idea of how much the dogs are rejuvenated by the "day of rest", we can compare "before and after" speeds of some of the front running teams. For example, Jeff's team ran the leg between McGrath and Takotna at an average of 7.94 mph, and the leg between Takotna and Ophir at 11.28. Dallas Seavey's team did the Takotna to Ophir leg at only 8.38 mph. High Neff came into Takotna with an average speed of 7.83 and into Ophir at 11.19. The elder Seavey's team averaged only 7.61 mph into Takotna, but dashed over the leg to Ophir at 11.45.
ADMA Announces LNAC and ONAC Modifications
In Fairbanks, our notoriously poor snow conditions has forced the Alaska Dog Musher's Association to modify the routes raced in both the Limited North American Championship, and the Open North American Championship.
In the limited race which runs this coming weekend, the major change is that the skijoring and 4-dog classes will run the same distance all three days, 4.5 miles. This is because the turn around at the longer 5.6 mile distance has been deemed unsafe for racing.
Meanwhile, the ONAC will not be starting downtown this year at all, but rather will launch from the ADMA's Jeff Studdert Racegrounds. Low snow conditions on Noyes Slough makes it unsafe for racing such large teams of dogs.
Putting in safe trails to run even with these modifications has been a major undertaking, with many volunteers working numerous hours out on the trail, some with heavy equipment. Edie Forrest trained dogs on the 7.7 mile trail yesterday, and reported that it was much smoother than her home trail which is one of the most vigilantly groomed trails in the Two Rivers area.