It's Sunday evening, and I'm getting down to the wire for this tour of duty at work. Only 1 more night and I'll be free to pursue my interests and run my dogs down the trails of my own choosing for a couple of weeks. I'll be off-duty at 6:00 AM Tuesday morning, but I'm betting the Iditarod front-runners will be off duty quite a while before I.
Inupiaq villagers throughout the western coast of Alaska are drumming, dancing and celebrating tonight as John Baker continues to lead the race. It's the first time since the days of Herbie Nayokpuk and Joe Garnie an Inupiaq has led the pack toward Nome, and John Baker is doing a masterful job of upholding more than 4,000 years of dog mushing tradition. His dogs remain strong, healthy and happy, though in an interview from Shaktoolik he was looking and sounding awfully haggard. Sleep deprivation, exhaustion and the stress of being the prey chased by very competent predators will do that to a fellow.
The predators are certainly doing their best to press the issue. John pulled into Shaktoolik at 2:44 this afternoon (ADT) apparently planning to give his team a full rest break before venturing onto the Bering Sea ice across Norton Bay but ended up cutting his break to a short 3 hours in order to leave before Hans Gatt arrived. As it was, Gatt pulled in only 10 minutes after Baker's departure. While Gatt was resupplying from his drop bags Ramey Smyth blew through the checkpoint like a Norton Sound blizzard. Smyth, who is reputed to be a strong "closer" capable of astounding performances in the last stages of long distance races, checked in at 6:20 and out at 6:21.
Gatt left in third place at 6:25. Hugh Neff and Sebastian Schnuelle also blew through the Shaktoolik checkpoint to join the chase at 7:11 and 7:27 respectively. Currently the IonEarth Race Tracker shows Hans Gatt and Ramey Smyth only 5 miles behind Baker, and both are traveling nearly 1/2 mile per hour faster faster than the leader. Hugh Neff and Sab Schnuelle are only about 6 miles behind Gatt and Smyth, so it is clearly a very close dog race this evening.
By blowing through Shaktoolik, all four pursuers are rolling the dice. In order to catch Baker they've cut rest. I imagine for now their goal is to stay as close as they can until they reach White Mountain, and a mandatory 8 hour layover before making the dash for the cash in Nome.
There is still a lot of racing happening a bit further back in the pack. Although probably too late to catch up to the leading pack, I see that Ray Redington Jr. has just arrived in Shaktoolik. The IonEarth tracker shows DeeDee Jonrowe, Dallas Seavey, Sonny Lindner, Jessie Royer and Aliy Zirkle all in route to Shak from Unalakleet. Unless something earth shattering occurs, I think our Top-10 will include all but 1 of the teams mentioned above. I wouldn't dare to try to guess which team will cross the finish line in eleventh place.
While the world was following the exciting Itidarod leaders, the super-fast dogs of the sprint trails were also racing in the Limited North American Championship races in Fairbanks this weekend. Here is the list of champions:
1 Dog Skijor - Sara Elzey
2 Dog Skimor - Greg Jurak
4 Dog - Jennifer Sterling
6 Dog - Dawn Brown
8 Dog - Dawn Brown again.
You can view the full results at the Alaska Dog Musher's Association website.
Next weekend ADMA will host the GCI Open North American Championship.