Friday, March 7, 2014

Action on the Trails

I see that overnight our local heroine Aliy Zirkle has moved up to the claim the lead coming into the checkpoint of Galena, on the Yukon River. Martin Buser is still a few miles out of the checkpoint running in second place, Aaron Burmeister, running on a bum knee, is still showing a solid performance in third place. Norwegian musher Robert Sorlie if following Aaron. Everyone else appears to be resting in the checkpoint of Ruby.

Aliy has been particularly dutiful about sticking to her own run/rest schedule, and it seems to be paying off at this point in the race. Trails conditions down river are reported to be good, but there are serious concerns about the run up the coast, particularly from Unalakleet (prounounced YOU-nuh-kleet)to the finish line. Longtime local resident Gregg Sumstad said he was out trapping for mink and marten this week and encountered a slick trail with a lot of bare ground, much of it no more than a ribbon of ice. "It's slippery," he said, noting the last major snow fell in December followed by temperatures in the mid-40s. "It's the least amount of snow I've ever seen."

Meanwhile, back in our local area, mushers are preparing to start the Chatanika Challenge 200. I'll be stopping in at the first two checkpoints to lend a hand wherever needed, but will be sequestered at the final checkpoint of Angel Creek from early tomorrow until the final musher departs. That could be as late as mid-morning Sunday, though it's unlikely I'll be there quite THAT long. We have a full roster of mushers for this year's mid-distance race. More than half are using the race as a qualifier for the Yukon Quest and/or Iditarod. Most of those mushers are quite young, late teens and early 20s. Some Quest mushers have been concerned by an apparent lack of youth in that race, but seeing so many young mushers entered in this qualifier, I think their concerns may be a bit misplaced or overstated.

Some of the more experienced entrants in this race are using it as a training race for their long distance teams, including Matt Hall. Although the purse isn't particularly rich, a team that does well in the race can at least meet expenses with perhaps a bit left over for additional kennel support, and I see a couple of mushers who may be hoping to do just that.

Part of my role as a race judge is to watch the mushers as much as I'm watching the dogs and interpreting race rules to "on the ground" situations. Each musher who has declared the race as a qualifier has a report card that will be sent to the long-distance race organizations. A lot of it is very subjective, like "general attitude" or "sleep deprivation tolerance." I really don't see how a race judge at a checkpoint can realistically evaluation "wilderness survival skills". Even a remote checkpoint like Angel Creek offers amenities not available in a wilderness survival situation. 

Our mushers are probably going to enjoy the trails, though. We have had volunteers working for the past two months to ensure decent trails for the race. They will encounter some challenges, but nothing nearly so harsh as the Iditarod has offered this year. There are a couple of patches of overflow the teams will need to negotiate and a small section of open water they'll have to cross, but nothing so deep or so scary as to be overly intimidating.

In any event, I'll be in and out of the house today and tomorrow, of course keeping an eye on what's happening in the big race as best I can. I'll be able to maintain my own dog care schedule without too much disruption, which leaves Trish more freedom than she gets while I'm away at work. She is taking advantage of that to spend the afternoon handling for our tour-operator friend down the road.

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