The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race restart was right on time, with DeeDee Jonrowe leaving the starting chute at 2:00 this afternoon (AST). The last musher to leave the start, rookie Justin Savidas, left at two minutes after 4. It looks like a couple of the mushers have already arrived at the first checkpoint, Yentna, and are continuing up the trail. It is very rare for a team to stop for very long at Yentna, most will take advantage of a well-traveled trail that is packed hard by snowmachine traffic to push on to Skwentna before taking a significant break and some will push on even further hoping to get ahead of the pack.
Snowmachine traffic peters out at about Skwentna, so the trail out of that checkpoint tends to be softer and sometimes 'punchy', creating more drag beneath the sled. According to the I'rod's live race tracking feature, a trailbreaker crew is working on the trail north of Rohn, and a trail sweep crew is north of Rainy Pass. There are far enough ahead of the teams to allow their tracks to set up firmly, even in the warmer temperatures we are enjoying.
The weather over most of Alaska is quite pleasant this evening, with temperatures running between zero and 20 above and under generally clear skies and the forecast is calling for more of the same well into the week and perhaps even into next weekend. If the weather does hold it could favor the faster teams, especially those made up of Eurohounds (German Short Hair Pointer X Alaskan Husky mixes). With thinner coats than more indigenous dogs, the Eurohounds are able to shed heat more efficiently and thus are able to tolerate warmer temperatures with little loss in performance.
As in other long-distance races, most of the mushers will spend the first couple of days at a moderate pace, just getting into the routine of running and resting. Dogs and humans are both very excited to be out on the trail, so there is a tendancy to try to go too fast. The more experienced mushers will go to great lengths to control the speed of their teams in hopes of preventing burn-out later during the race. While they may be less than 50 miles up the trail, they are already thinking about what they'll need to do when they reach mile 1,000 or more.
At this point it's looking like the trail is going to be good and the weather is also looking good. By this time tomorrow evening race strategies should be coming together for those on the trail, and perhaps I'll have more to share. Meanwhile, wishing you and yours happy tails and smooth trails.