07:00 – While sitting at work I have been contemplating why Brent Sass might chose to camp at Medicine Lake when a perfectly good checkpoint with hot water, hot food and a warm place to sleep is only about 10 miles away. Allen Moore’s tracker showed him at the base of Eagle Summit, Hugh’s tracker wasn’t working, Jake was out on the trail heading toward the dreaded mountain and a DOT weather camera on Cleary Summit, the next summit west of Eagle showed warm temperatures and high winds. Then it hit me – I thought I knew what Brent was planning.
My next thought was “Naw, there ain’t anyone that crazy.” We are talking about Wild and Free Brent Sass, though. His team has never faltered on Eagle Summit, even with the nastiest weather that nasty mountain can throw.
He’s gonna blow through Central as quickly as he can, drive to the base of the hill, give his dogs a good snack and just a little breather, whistle ‘em up and march over the mountain like it isn’t even there.” I thought.
07:20 – so far it looks like my guess is correct. Sass arrived in Central at 06:50, and left at 6:55. I can hardly believe my eyes. If he pulls this off it’s likely to be the most astounding thing seen in a long-distance sled dog race since Lance Mackey’s huge run that set him up to win the Iditarod back in 2007 (I think it was 2007).
09:20 – Congratulations are in order for Hugh Neff who apparently defeated the ghost of Eagle Summit. Hugh arrived at the Mile 101 checkpoint at 08:05. Allen came through the checkpoint at 8:10, and claimed the lead by heading toward the Two Rivers checkpoint at 8:19, only four minutes ahead of his rival. Jake Berkowitz is climbing into the hills heading toward the mountain, with Brent Sass only a few miles behind.
1120 – Well I’ll be damned. HE DID IT. As I write the live tracking shows that Brent Sass passed Jake Berkowitz on Eagle Summit, but in typical high-class Brent Sass fashion, he appears to be stopped at the top. Jake’s team appears to also be stopped, part of the way back down the slope. Brent could easily be gaining some time, but I suspect instead he is holding off, doing what he can to cheer on or help his rival. That’s just the kind of thing that Brent Sass is famous for doing.
(Confirmed by Yukon Quest YouTube Video Interview)
1430 – Brent Sass arrived signed into the Mile 101 checkpoint at 12:08, and Jake did his paperwork at 12:10. Being still nearly four hours behind the front runners, and not nearly enough trail to catch them, I think they are resigned to racing between themselves for the third and fourth place finishes. Basically, we have two really close races to watch over the next few hours.
The Two Rivers checkpoint is at a gravel pit about 32 miles northeast of my place. From the checkpoint into town the race trail measures roughly 72 miles of well traveled trails over essentially flat terrain, with about a third of mileage on the Chena River. The teams will be coming off of a mandatory 8 hour layover, so they should be very well rested. I see no reason why they can’t make that distance in a single run.
The race between Allen Moore and Hugh Neff could be just as close this year as it was last. The last section of the Quest trail is essentially Allen Moore’s home trail. He has to pass right by his own feeder trail during the last leg of this race. His dogs know the place as home, the source of nice doghouses filled with fresh straw, tasty meals and lots of loving people to care for their every desire. It may be very hard for them to run past such luxuries, and the Quest has been lost in the past when a tired dog team refused to run by their home trail, so Allen has spent some time this winter training his dogs to do exactly that. It could be difficult nonetheless.
Although not as intimately familiar as Allen, Hugh Neff has run this trail before, so he knows what to expect. He'll probably be in a good position to take advantage of any glitch that Allen might have, and vice versa. The two teams have been running essentially neck to neck throughout the race, so I really do think it’s likely to be another very close finish between Hugh Neff and Allen Moore.
It could be an equally close finish between Brent Sass and Jake Berkowitz. The leg between Central and Mile 101 is the only one of the last 3 legs of the trail that Brent has run faster than has Jake. Of course, he ran it a LOT faster than Jake, in order to catch him on Eagle Summit. It’s pretty evident that Brent’s dogs handle the tough going better than do Jake's. The problem is that the tough going to end pretty quickly. Once they cross over Rosebud Summit, it’s all down hill from there to the Two Rivers Check Point, and beyond that it’s like mushing down an Interstate Highway.
That would suggest that Brent needs to put some serious distance between his team and Jake’s early in this next section of trail. I think he needs as much of a head start out of the Two Rivers gravel-pit checkpoint as he can get and the only way to earn that is to ride Wild and Free over this short little jaunt between Mile 101 and Chena Hot Springs Road. I imagine both mushers will be on the verge of out-of-control coming down Angel Creek, just as Allen and Hugh are right now.
18:53 - I'm now writing in real time, and it appears that Jake has given Brent a pretty nice head start in this dash for the cash. Brent left the Mile 101 checkpoint at 16:14 and Jake waited another hour and 3/4 or so before departing, at 17:55. That may be plenty to give Brent the third place finish in Fairbanks tomorrow morning.
Allen led Hugh Neff into the Two Rivers checkpoint by 16 minutes, the two mushers signing in at 14:31 and 14:37 respectively. They are now serving their mandatory 8 hour layover, and I doubt they will delay their departures once they are eligible to leave. If my calculation is close to correct I think the winner will cross under the finish banner around 7:00 or so in the morning.
If the live tracking data is accurate, it appears that Brent Sass is nearing the top of Rosebud Summit and will soon be starting the downhill run to the Two Rivers checkpoint. Jake Berkowitz is still very close to Mile 101, just getting a good start on his run. In 5th place, Scott Smith is out of Central and according to live tracking is nor more than a mile away from crossing the Steese Highway and entering the approach to Eagle Summit. He is very much alone out there, as no one else has yet checked into Central, let alone started on this section of trail.
Normand Casavant, Abbie West and Markus Ingebretsen are all still on Birch Creek. It looks like Ingebretsen has fallen behind the other two. Susan Rogan and Dan Kaduce are still at Circle City, and round out the top-10 positions in the race this evening.
Of course I'm going to be a day late in greeting Allen and Hugh. They will finish their race tomorrow, and I won't be off duty from work until Tuesday (sigh).