Sunday, March 4, 2012

Day 1- The Race has Begun by Sam Towarak

Sam's Analysis

Iditarod 40 is official. Our family (Anchorage bunch) has chosen an isolated lake where the mushers go through and brought a picnic lunch. Iditarod fans are lined all along the trail today for a good time outdoors. A picnic on the Iditarod trail, now that’s the Spirit.

The mantra for the early part of the Race is snow and more snow. I talked yesterday to Race Marshall Mark Nordman about the snow. He said the trailbreakers have been working the initial part of the trail daily back and forth to insure a smooth run. Yet the trail while okay can cause problems if your team leaves the trail. Pulling out a well conditioned dog team out of this snow can wear on a musher. There still is the threat of moose on the trail, this was the case on the sprint trail out by Tudor which the Iditarod goes through. Moose will use a well groomed trail to get to their food. I asked the race marshall, will the mushers be held up because of race conditions, and he said confidently, that this is out of the question, the mushers will have a trail to traverse. You may remember in the early part of the Iditarod that mushers were held up because of deep snow conditions, but not this year. This is a testament to the hard working trailbreakers clearing up the Iditarod trail to Rohn.

The first checkpoint on the trail is Yentna and you should see the top mushers getting there in about 3.5 hours with snow conditions making it 4 hours. We should see check-in times from 6 to 730 pm for top competitors with most just checking in and out to go to Skwentna. Arrival times for top mushers should be around 2 ½ hours and expect mushers to arrive around the 9pm hour. From Skwentna, it becomes an individual decision on whether to proceed further, but the top mushers will grab straw and dog food and head up the trail for another 1 ½ hours. This will make for a nice run the next day for reaching the Rohn Roadhouse. Yesterday, we talked about how the Mackeys, Bakers, and Smyth’s have changed this race and this is the first installment of this. We can expect 4-6 hours of rest time than the run to Rohn begins. You can expect the mushers to clear the Alaska Range by 230pm on Monday. Trail conditions dictate that the top mushers stay in the front of the pack to avoid the soft trail.

Should we see slower times, we should not be disappointed. The other phenomenon you will see is the mushers taking turns in the lead position as it sometimes is very difficult “breaking” trail. This part of the trail sees some scratches from dogs that are eager and cause accidents. Mushers will be cautious especially before the Rainy Pass Lodge. While there may be a brief reprieve from snow, it will rear its ugly head again before the mushers take their 24 hour. Professional mushers train their dogs for a 100-110 mile mentality. Now you may say that they don’t run a 100 miles in one day, and your right but when they are in the 100-110 mile mentality, the mushers like to see a little reserve in their dogs after a 90 mile run. You may even hear the dog leaders barking after the end of that run and that pleases the musher.

What can a musher realistically shoot for as far as a position finish? I took two runs of the mushers in the race and found that there are 8 mushers competing for the top 5 slots, 13 mushers competing for the top 10 slots, 18 mushers competing for the top 15 slots and 22 mushers competing for a top 25 finish. So there are 3-5 slots available for a top 25 finish- a musher can realistically reach that goal. When the race concludes, we can look at the 3-5 slots and note those mushers potential. The First Day of the Race- we still are looking to mark this race with the surprises and the progress.

Sam Towarak, retired school teacher, dog musher, and sports commentator, lives in Unalakleet, Alaska.