Good morning. I enjoyed a pretty good night of sleep and was awake at 3:00 am, an hour before my alarm was set. The night-shift security guard was making his rounds and I spent a few minutes chatting with him. He noted that in the Yukon Quest Hugh Neff seems to be setting a grueling pace, and I had to agree with him. Jim grew up running sled dogs in the Native village of Minto, home of many accomplished sled dog racers, so I think he has a pretty good eye for what is happening out on the trails.
Here is what I'm seeing (and thinking) as I check out web-sites to learn what has happened out on the trail while I was dreaming good dreams of strong dogs and comfortable camps.
Yukon Quest 300
It's possible that YQ-300 officials responsible for updating the site are just now enjoying that first cup of coffee and haven't updated the site in a while, as I haven't seen much change since I first checked it out about 3 hours ago. The leaderboard shows Gerry Willowmitzer leaving the Carmacks checkpoint first, followed by Ed Hopkins only 28 minutes later. The start time differential is adjusted at this checkpoint, so information on the leaderboard will reflect the racers position within the race as accurately as can be done.
Currently in the checkpoint we have Paige Drobny, Susie Rogan, Brian Wilmhurst, Eric Pourteau, Mathias Beck, Aliy Zirkle, Yuka Honda and Misha Pederson rounding out the Top-10. Rolf Meili, who I am following closely as he is running a dog that will soon be joining my kennel, arrived in Carmacks in the 14th place, followed closely by SP Kennels musher Ryne Olson. Follower Dave, it looks like Kathleen Frederick (probably not related to author Lisa Frederic) is eighteenth into Carmacks.
AH, that first cup of coffee must have kicked in, as I see the leaderboard has been updated. Current information now shows that Paige Drobny left Carmacks third, Mathis Beck fourth, Aliy Zirkle fifth and Brian Wilmshurst sixth.
The Long Race
The Yukon Quest leaderboard currently shows that Hugh Neff left the Pelly Crossing checkpoint at 5:55 after resting his dogs a solid 5 hours. Brent Sass blew through the checkpoint, arriving at 6:23 and leaving only 14 minutes later to claim the second place position. Front running teams currently at Pelly Crossing include Hans Gatt, Ken Anderson, Wade Marrs, Sebastian Schnuelle and Josh Cadzow.
Much of the chatter about the race include commentary about the fast pace that Hugh Neff has been running. Yesterday Gwen Holdman noted that he is maintaining a strong lead not because he has a particularly fast team, but rather because he is resting his dogs less than other mushers. An article in this morning's Fairbanks Daily News-Miner quotes Neff as saying "“So I did a pretty long run there, (Braeburn to Carmacks) made good time, maybe too fast actually,” Neff said. “It’s a very, very fast trail so you have to be careful about pushing the dogs too hard where it’s going to sap their energy, so that’s why I’m going to give them a good break here right now.”
The leg between Pelly Crossing and Dawson is the first truly long leg of the trip. The mushers will be passing through a hospitality stop at Stepping Stone and a dog drop at Scroggie Creek before undertaking the long climb up King Solomon Dome and then dropping down into Dawson, where they have a mandatory 36 hour lay-over.
This stretch of trail will be important to the outcome of the race. The general concensus is that any team that can arrive in Dawson within 12 hours of the first team can be a contender to win the race. In recent years I'd suggest that time frame should probably be shortened to 8 hours. Once the teams leave Dawson, the race will be at it's height, and every strategic and tactical move on the trail will have the potential to make or break that team's race.
Other Racing News
The Alaska Dog Musher's Association of Fairbanks held their final preliminary race yesterday, and the results of the race are posted on their website at http://www.sleddog.org/. This marks the beginning of the championship racing season for the sprint mushers.
I need to tend to some business on behalf of my employer, but I'll try to post another update sometime around mid-day today.