I'd love to have all sorts of exciting stories from the Quest trail to share with you, but with the teams making their way across the longest unsupported stretch of the race, not much news is flowing into Quest headquarters, and even less if flowing my direction.
Currently Hugh Neff is maintaining about a 40 to 45 mile lead over the nearest teams. He is within a few miles of the Circle City Checkpoint. He hasn't been traveling fast today, but he has been traveling smart. He's been maintaining a conservative run and rest schedule. His speed has been consistently between about 4 1/2 and 4 1/2 miles per hour. I'm guessing this is because he does not have a well broken trail on which to run.
Meanwhile, roughly 7 or 8 hours behind Hugh, we have a pretty solid pack of top-notch mushers who are just now pulling into the Slaven's Road House dog drop. These guys are basically running together, taking turns at breaking trail. By sharing the hard work they are able to run faster than is Hugh, but I doubt it will be fast enough to catch him. It is just a matter of distance - there isn't enough trail ahead for them to make up the time.
Currently at Slaven's we have Hans Gatt, Sebastian Schnuelle, Ken Anderson, and Allen Moore are all at Slavens, feeding and resting their teams. Brent Sass and Dallas Seavey are no more than an hour behind.
Like Hugh, these teams have broken up the long stretch between Eagle and Circle City into three different runs. They've stopped and camped together at Trout Creek, and now will camp for a few hours here at Slaven's before setting off for Circle City. I would imagine that Hugh will try to be in Central before these other teams arrive at Circle City. At this point staying one checkpoint ahead of his closest competitors strikes me as a pretty good strategy. It will allow him to keep tabs of their location, yet hold them far enough at bay to present no threat at all to his lead.
The hardest part of the trail, the big climb up Eagle Summit followed by Rosebud Summit immediately after the Mile 101 checkpoint, still lies ahead. Hugh doesn't need to push his team hard, so he will tackle the climb with fresh, well-rested dogs.
Meanwhile, I'm guessing that snowmachine traffic between Central and Circle City will result in a trail that is reasonably well broken, and I think our hearty crew of front-runners will become less cohesive as these driven competitors shift gears back into "race mode". Each position at the finish line is worth more money than the one below, and all of these guys have kennel expenses to pay. For this crew, I think the camping trip will end and the race will once again begin as they leave the Circle City checkpoint and make the dash for Central and the big hill climb beyond.
No one else has scratched or withdrawn from the race today. The leaderboard shows the 'back of the pack' mushers, including Tamara Rose, Jerry Joinson, Didier Moggia, Kyla Durham and Hank DeBruin are all at the Fortymile hospitality stop, and have been there for quite a long while. DeBruin arrived there at 9:42 this morning.
About an hour ago an update on the Yukon Quest website noted that trail breakers are heading out of Circle City to make sure the trail to Central is in good condition. That confirms my guess that the trail out of the checkpoint should be in reasonable condition, making it possible for the front-running teams to perform to their very best abilities.
It's time for me to get some rack time. I only have two more full days of work, and will be getting off duty at mid-morning on Tuesday. I imagine most of the Top-10 mushers in this year's Yukon Quest will beat me to Fairbanks by at least a full day.