Weather conditions along the Iditarod trail have not been very favorable today, and it is evident in the performance of some of the front running teams. By 8:30 this morning winds were reported at 30 knots, and the temperature was rising rapidly. Shortly after 5:00 pm the temperature in the area around Iditarod and also at Shageluk was 40 degrees above zero. Even on a good trail those temperatures create slow, punchy conditions that can lead to joint injuries in dogs.
Trail conditions between Iditarod and Shagaluk described as “primitive”
and the only traffic on them all winter being the trail breakers for
this race. The trail passes over big rolling hills, fully exposed to
that wind. Combined with near or above freezing temperatures the wet, relatively heavy snow is likely to accumulate in drifts that will be
hard to break through.
At this point it’s pretty clear that Martin Buser is being hard pressed to maintain his hard earned lead. Having rested his team only 5 hours, he left the checkpoint of Iditarod at 2:00 this afternoon, less than an hour and a half after Aaron Burmeister’s 12:46 arrival and only 18 minutes before Mitch Seavey pulled into the checkpoint.
Aliy Zirkle apparently decided to camp in between Ophir and Iditarod rather than pushing her dogs through the hot part of the day. Her trail time between the checkpoints was pretty slow as a result, but she blew through Iditarod, staying only 10 minutes, to claim the second place position. Aaron Burmeister, who was resting when Aliy arrived, left the checkpoint about 40 minutes behind her.
Having delayed the inevitable, Lance Mackey, Sonny Lindner and Jeff King all appear to be serving their 24 hour layovers at the checkpoint of Iditarod. Lance will be able to rejoin the race sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 tonight, Sonny right around 10:00, and Jeff between 1:30 and 2:00 this morning, if my math estimation is reasonably close. Unless forced to drop some dogs, that should put Lance in a pretty reasonable position.
At this point it looks like the greatest challenge facing the mushers the next couple of days will be the weather, with very warm temperatures and high winds being the rule all they way out to the coast.
At the moment, the top-10 list, consisting of mushers who have completed their mandatory layovers, looks something like this:
Ray Redington Jr.
I think it's going to be very interesting to see how the various teams cope with the warm, thawing and very windy weather out there.