As we write this blog, Dallas Seavey is pulling the hook to head to Nome. He has over an hour lead on Aliy Zirkle and two hours on Ramey Smyth. I thought yesterday that there was some vulnerable moments that were not seized upon. Anticipating the trailing mushers, Dallas Seavey employed some defensive tactics of his own by moving about 10 miles out of the checkpoint watching from a vantage point to see if any mushers would leave the checkpoint, both at Elim and at Shaktoolik. Also there was a decrease in the speed at certain points in the trail, which may have allowed for a pass. Yet no one was poised to seize the moment.
Ramey Smyth. After his mishap early in the race, Ramey ran a very conservative race staying out of the equation till late in the race. Than he ran an impressive run to make a shot at the top five. For a while, I thought he was going to go pass Aliy after Elim but chose to stop and rest his dogs for the final push to White Mountain. He was within a mile of Aliy when he stopped to rest. Now that is an impressive run and Ramey may have stored it in his memory saving the potential moment for the run to Nome. Ramey Smyth is an accomplished musher who grew up around dogs his entire life. His parents both ran the early Iditarods so he lived around that knowledge base. He trains his dogs to pick up speed at the end of long runs, and the run to Nome could be no exception. He and his brother are notorious for having the fastest run from Safety to Nome.
What about Mitch Seavey and John Baker? Right now, they are racing to White Mountain and are six miles short to taking their eight hour in White Mountain and are poised to try for one or two top five slots which they have to share with Ray Redington Jr. who is in the caravan with the two mushers. I think Joe Runyan hit the nail on the head when he analyzed the two mushers (John and Mitch) He said that both mushers has set up a plan to win the race and nothing else. When that was not apparent, other mushers passed or caught up with them. The other mushers (especially Peter Kaiser ) had set up a plan to place in the top ten unlike the two mushers. It became apparent when John Baker took a long rest at Koyuk- if he were contending for a top finish, he would have gone non-stop to White Mountain. Instead, he stopped in Elim for another rest, hoping to keep up the speed of his dogs. I might mention here also that if Jeff King had still been in contention, he would have affected other mushers strategies and could have possibly been the one who would have taken up the opportunities to take the lead.
I think the Iditarod reenergizes the race when they have a new champion and younger mushers with a following show good promise and potential to challenge the veterans. One of the younger mushers, Michael Williams Jr. is poised for a top ten finish although the fight will be close for him to get the 7-10 slot. Once these mushers experience this kind of finish, they will have figured out how to maintain a top ten finish or finish in a higher position in future Iditarods. I think the veterans like John Baker will readjust their strategy to include how to deal with the cadre of new mushers. We might mention that with the last few years, the race has been won in near or record times so adjusting strategies are limited in what can be done. I think efficiencies early in the race can be done where time is saved but still able to run a conservative race.
People will remember this race as a heavy snow year with a well groomed trail. This has been a plus for the Iditarod because it has minimized dog injuries because of the abundance of snow. Also the fact that the pace has not slowed because of deep snow. The Iditarod is challenging year to year because of the change to environmental and atmospheric conditions. The majority of the scratches happened later in the race and that is a testament to the quality of the teams plus the requirements to qualify to run the Iditarod. If I may digress, in one of the early Iditarods, there was a rumor that a dog team actually made up of strays or unproven dogs. Needless to say, that team scratched at Knik. The musher involved denied the makeup of the team and we will never know if that was true that the dogs were unproven team. The Iditarod has set up the race today so that teams people see at the start line are proven teams capable of finishing a 1000 mile race.
Let’s conclude by discussing the last day of the race. Dallas Seavey is now on the run to Safety and than to Nome. On his tail will be Aliy Zirkle and Ramey Smyth. Doing the math and looking at a probable speed of each team, I am estimating Dallas Seavey’s run to Nome to be about eleven hours. In order for Aliy Zirkle to catch Dallas Seavey the GPS tracker would have to say that she is going 7.63 mph or better in order for her to catch Dallas just for a race down front street. Similarly, Ramey Smyth would have to show 8.27 mph on the tracker. This is assuming Dallas is averaging about 7 mph which he is very capable of doing given his progress so far in the race.
Congratulations to all the mushers on yet another exciting year- Iditarod 40.
Sam Towarak, retired school teacher, dog musher, and sports commentator, lives in Unalakleet, Alaska.