Today marks the mid-point of my two-week tour of duty here at work. It's all downhill from here and by this time next week I'll be relaxing in the man-cave I refer to as home, preparing to run some dogs. Meanwhile the Iditarod mushers are already running their dogs, and things are starting to shake-down a bit in the race.
Not really a surprise, Zoya Denure decided to scratch at Rainy Pass. Very much a surprise, Paul Gebhart also scratched today. Both mushers cited the best interest of their teams as the reasons they've dropped out of the race.
Lance Mackey has also had some struggles today. He pulled into Nikolai checkpoint carrying two dogs in his sled, and had just put a third dog back in the team after carrying it for a ways. He dropped all three at the checkpoint and is now racing with a team of 12. Mackey was quoted as saying he's not going to count himself out yet - and he has come back from adversity before to win the Iditarod - but he says victory does not look likely at this point.
Thus far trail conditions remain consistently hard and fast, the type of trail that most favors the speed of the hare over the persistence of the tortoise. It's the type of conditions that favor Martin Buser's team, and he's taking advantage of the situation. With all 16 dogs on the line coming out of Nickolai he is currently the leading team. He isn't running alone, by any means. Currently the I'rod's live tracking feature shows Lance Mackey and Sebastian Schnuelle only 10 miles being, and moving perhaps even a bit faster than Martin. There are plenty of other fast teams driven by shrewd, experienced racers that are well within striking distance.
As teams arrive in McGrath later this evening we will likely see some of these front-runners declare their mandatory 24-hour layover. Others will push on to Takotna and perhaps a few will elect to move on to the ghost town of Iditarod or even to the Yukon River before taking their mandatory break. McGrath and Takotna both offer ammenities not available in more remote villages, including stores and at least 1 restaurant. Both communities are highly regarded for their hospitality toward the mushers.
As I've written before, hardpacked trails polished by a bit of wind assisted by relatively warm temperatures are very fast, but are also prone to induce injuries. They tend to be slippery underneath dog's paws, especially when those paws are contained within nylon booties. They are also very slippery beneath the runners, making sled control a considerable challenge. It's very easy for a musher to let his or her team's speed get a bit out of control, especially when the dogs so clearly delight in running as fast as they can get away with.
Sore feet, wrist and shoulder injuries can result from the pounding just as our own joints suffer when running on paved surfaces. Add the odd slips and slides and sprains and strains can also occur readily on such trails. A day spent relaxing in the soothing rays of the sun is just the ticket to help overworked muscles and joints heal and I think we will see most of the front-runners giving their teams that opportunity over the course of the next day.
Speaking of shoulder injuries, 5-time champ Rick Swenson is still on the trail and competing well in spite of a likely broken clavicle (collar bone) resulting from a bad fall at the Happy River Steps. Did I ever mention that some of my neighbors are just flat tough old sourdough types?
Some of those tough old sourdoughs, and several mere mortals, will be running the Two Rivers 200 next weekend. That means I should have some pretty fun trails to explore when I get home from work next week.
Of course I'll keep an eye on the I'rod and will update this blog if anything particularly interesting or noteworthy catches my eye.