I feel like I've been racing hither and tither the past few days - mostly because I have been. Trish and I went to the Chatanika Challenge 200 finish banquet last night and afterward still had our own kennel chores to complete before we could call it the end of the day. That's when I posted the last update. While I've felt like I've been going nonstop, and the Iditarod racers have certainly been going nonstop, and for considerably longer than I.
This morning Jeff King and Aliy Zirkle still racing very closely. Jeff is holding on to his lead and is now about 20 miles outside the checkpoint of White Mountain, where he can give his dogs a solid, mandatory 8 hours of rest. Aliy Zirkle is still just two miles behind, keeping up the pressure. Only 7 miles behind Aliy, and charging along at nearly 10 mph, Dallas Seavey has overtaken some of the best teams in the world and is giving chase. Though he has only 8 dogs, one of the smallest teams in the front, it's obviously the right 8 dogs.
11 miles behind Dallas, the 'Buser Bullets' have clearly lost their high velocity punch. Martin's team is slogging along at only 5 mph. He still has 12 dogs on the gangline, but one can only go as fast as one's slowest dogs and at this point that would apparently include every animal on his team. Only 2 miles behind Martin Mitch Seavey is also moving up in the standings, traveling along at 7 mph and almost certain to pass Martin between here and the checkpoint at White Mountain. Mitch is followed by Sonny Lindner, who has also slowed considerably.
These musher's closest rivals are still 18 miles out of Elim. Joar Liefseth Ulsom and Aaron Burmeister are traveling closely together, and for practical purposes can be considered non-players for the championship unless something truly catastrophic happens on the trail ahead of them.
While I'm preparing to head into town for my annual physical exam, I'm kind of glad that the leaders will be taking their mandatory time in White Mountain. Otherwise I'd be so involved with trying to update the race on my stupid little 'smart' phone I'd have no time to focus on Dr. Kohnen's sage advice nor the other errands I intend to accomplish during my trip to Fairbanks. Heck, I might even be able to get some housekeeping done this afternoon. It's hard to run the vacuum cleaner while trying to reach over and hit the "refresh" button on the computer.
I'm predicting that once the teams leave White Mountain, fresh and well rested after a long break, that we will see a three-way, head to head dash for the cash. I couldn't possibly predict which of the three mushers will ultimately prevail. Each teams has their own strengths and weaknesses. Young and incredibly fit and with a relatively small and therefore more easily managed team, Dallas Seavey in famous for his own personal athleticism, which lets him run beside his sled for hours at a time, reducing the load his dogs have to carry. Aliy is no slouch in the human athletic department, and it's something she and Allen Moore have made a high priority over the past couple of years. That amazon of a woman has a tremendous team of dogs, but they aren't the high speed sprinty types of dogs that are drawing Jeff King up the trail and Aliy herself is injured, having tweaked an ankle in an ice hole prior to Shaktoolik.
What Jeff lacks in personal physical conditioning, he more than makes up for in brain power and dog savvy. With 12 dogs on his gangline, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he were to drop as many as 4 of his slower dogs at White Mountain.
Equipment condition is also a factor at this point. These are not very good trails. I'd bet that all three of these mushers will be changing out the plastic "shoes" under their runners as the ones currently under the sleds have to be in pretty poor shape.
No matter how I look at it, I just can't give any one of these teams a strong advantage over the others. It truly is going to be a nail-biter all the way to the finish line.