It is too early to declare the race for first over, but there is an obvious front runner who is likely to win. There are a couple of notable departures from the race as well. Jake Berkowitz was withdrawn from the race by officials after he suffered a serious hand wound on the trail while cutting meat for dogs. Both for his safety, and that of the dogs he must care for, the decision was made at Unalakleet to pull him from the race. That is the second time in two years such an incident has ended the race for a strong racer. Last year it was Mitch Seavey who cut himself. He told me before this year's race it was clearly the right decision, although he tried to convince the race marshall he was able to continue. No second guessing is needed here. No racer would be pulled from the race by the experienced race marshall Mark Nordman unless it was a serious situation, and witnesses say it was for Berkowitz.
Jeff King scratched, his first Iditarod scratch ever I believe, after a tough run from Kaltag. I have scratched a few times, and as a recreational musher I did so when things went sour and it was no longer fun. I only wanted to win or place high. If the dogs were not doing well, all of us felt better after we stopped. I always had something better to do than crawl to the finish line. I'm guessing King does too.
There is no shortage of stuff written about this year's race. I read much of it. Aaron Burmeister gets lots of ink for being a heavy smoker, and somewhat out of shape. Let me defend him. Aaron is a veteran racer who has paid his dues by performing out of the limelight most of the time. He has his best run going this year, by far. He's a good guy and a person who promotes dog racing anyway he can--not himself, but the sport of racing. I am delighted to see him do well in this year's race.
ADDED FOLLOW-UP: Dallas Seavey may have stopped on the edge of the ice 10 miles north of Shaktoolik for a good reason. From that vantage point he could see several miles behind him and start moving when a team approached. If he had stopped in the village, a following team could leave right with him, a big advantage for the slower team. This way he keeps a lead and still has chance to rest his speedy team. We will see if this is his plan, because Zirkle is approaching his resting spot as I write this note.
Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checkinghttp://www.myronangstman.com/