I awoke this afternoon to another gloriously beautiful afternoon. There still isn't a cloud to be seen in the sky as as I write (at 20:30 in the evening) the temperature here at my work place near the White Mountains NRA is 9 degrees above zero (about -13 C). I've just returned from making my first set of rounds, and noticed curtains of northern lights starting to dance among the stars.
Out on the Iditarod trail, it looks like the front-runners are starting a dance of their own as they jockey for position. When I came on duty at 18:00 several were at the Iditarod checkpoint. Martin Buser had arrived arrived first, followed about 45 minutes ahead of Hugh Neff, who apparently gained some ground and some time on the race leader. Lance Mackey had arrived third about half an hour or so after Hugh. In fact, I noticed all of the expected names except 1. Where the heck was Sebastian?
Apparently Sebastian Schnuelle elected to make a camp to rest his team out on the trail. He came trotting into Iditarod at 17:35, stopped just long enough to restock, and left again at 17:51. His departure was akin to setting off the alarm clock, because the other race leaders gave chase in very short order.
Currently the IonEarth Live Race Tracking shows Sab in the lead, with Hugh Neff only a mile or so behind. John Baker, Martin Buser, Hans Gatt, Lance Mackey and Ray Redington Jr. are all with 10 miles of Sebastian. Mike Williams, Sonny Lindner and Dallas Seavey are all also out of Iditarod and heading toward Shagaluk.
There are consistent reports that the trail between Iditarod and Shagaluk is soft and deep. This can make for slow going, but it certainly be better in the cold of night that during the day. It's about 60 miles between the two checkpoints, which should be a relatively easy run for these strong teams in spite of the soft snow. I would imagine that most of the frontrunners will do this stretch in a single run, and some will likely press onward toward Anvik on the Yukon River.
Another name is missing from the leaderboard this evening, and unfortunately it's another perennial favorite. 2004 Champion Mitch Seavey was withdrawn about the same time I posted this morning's update. Apparently Mitch was using a clasp knife to open a bale of straw when the knife folded, nearly severing his right index finger. Race Marshall Mark Nordstrum made the decision to withdraw the elder Seavey from the race in order to fly him back to Anchorage for appropriate medical treatment.