When I checked on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race this morning, there was no doubt in my mind that things are changing fast out on the trail, and at that point it was impossible to determine who is actually leading the race. Mushers were leap-frogging each other all across the Kaltag portage. Aliy Zirkle was the first to go through the checkpoint at Kaltag, but others followed in very short order.
As of 6:40 (ADST) this morning, I was able to identify 11 different teams that can assume the lead of this race. Aaron Burmeister had taken over the lead and Mitch Seavey was only one mile behind him. Martin Buser, Joar Ulsom and Jake Berkowitz were resting about 10 miles behind the leaders. Aliy was approaching within a mile of that group, and moving at the fastest pace of any of the mushers then on the trail, with Sonny Lindner right on her heels. DeeDee Jonrow, John Baker, Dallas Seavey. Jessie Royer and Paul Gebhardt were all running a group less than 20 miles behind Aaron.
That gives us 12 teams all in contention, and too closely grouped to identify a true “leader” in the race.
While I was busy doing my job, things changed yet again. Mitch Seavey passed Aaron Burmeister to arrive first in Unalakleet, by only 15 minutes. Jiff King passed a bunch of people to be third into the checkpoint at 1:21, not quite three hours later. He was followed by Jake Berkowitz at 1:23. Aliy Zirkle fell back into fourth place, arriving at 1:40 pm, with Ray Redington Jr. only 2 minutes behind her. Joar Ulsom came in at 2:07 and DeeDee Jonrowe arrived at 4:02.
By the time DeeDee arrived, Mitch Seavey and Aaron Burmeister were back on the trail. Having given their teams about five hours of rest, Seavey left at 3:10 and Aaron at 3:25.
Reports from the trail are that high winds caused heavy snow drifting, often obliterating the trail and forcing the teams to do a lot more trail breaking than was earlier expected. This seems to be particularly tough work for Aliy Zirkle’s smaller dogs. Apparently she had intended to run through to Tripod Cabin, but ended up camping considerably before there, allowing some of the teams to overtake her and break out a somewhat better trail.
It appears that Jeff King has already started to make a move for a fast finish up the coast, hoping to collect pickup truck number 5. Dallas Seavey and John Baker are also picking up the pace. John always performs extremely well on the coast, and Seavey seems to be repeating the strategy that earned him the championship last year. Meanwhile, Martin Buser’s team seems to have all but shut down on him. At 5:00 he was running in 10th place, trudging along at only 4.5 miles per hour and still four miles out from the checkpoint.
Currently (6:30 pm), it looks like Jeff King left Unalakleet at 4:56, and Aliy pulled her snow hook at 1751, giving her team about 4 hours of rest. Joar Ulsom followed Aliy by only 4 minutes.
I'm afraid this 'spring ahead' for daylight savings time this morning is kickin' my butt. My circadian rhythm is off pretty badly, and I need to get some sleep. I'll just have to let the race play out for a few hours and try to catch up again in the morning.