Aliy Zirkle made an interesting decision to take her 8 hour in Galena. What this enabled her to do is to make the run from Galena to Kaltag with minimal rest, take 6 hours plus in Kaltag and continue over the portage to the coast. Her arrival just before 4pm will allow her to leave just before midnight. Where does that put her in comparison with the top three mushers?
Mitch Seavey left Ruby for Galena at 2pm and that puts him into Galena around 8:40pm tonight. Most of the mushers will check into Galena and check out with items from their bags continuing the journey back down the Yukon to a spot on the trail known as Bishop Rock. I expect all three mushers to do that. Theoretically, it puts them over 3½ hours ahead of Aliy Zirkle. Remember that the top three teams will stop and rest at Bishop Rock. Let’s assume that will be for 3 ½ hours. Than you say that Aliy is running neck and neck with the leaders, but she also will probably feed her dogs at Nulato, lets say for 2 hours. That puts her 1 ½ hours behind the leader.
Aliy Zirkle increases her options by the Galena 8 hour mandatory rest,. Depending on how she feels her dog team is, she can do a couple of things. She can feed her dogs than get back on the trail. The next option will invite a few chuckles but she can actually increase her rest at Nulato to 4 hours. What this allows her to do is to pick straw (or just dog/personal food)at Kaltag and continue over the portage to the coast. She can stop at either of two shelter cabins 49 miles or 39 miles from Unalakleet if she finds her attempt to recapture the lead has not materialized. The one thing I don’t think she will try is to run from Nulato to Unalakleet in one long stretch run. People may remember that this is what Lance Mackey did and it resulted in an Iditarod win. I think that is a once in a lifetime feat that probably will not be done for a long time.
We have not talked about a John Baker strategy to take the lead by the coast but the potential lies there. He may wait to see if the Zirkle vs. Seaveys countermoves play out to see if it affected the speed of the two Seaveys. What he also may be waiting for is for the younger Seavey race with the older Seavey at some point on the Yukon or the Portage. This could affect either of the teams with regards to speed and John could take advantage of that on the run from Unalakleet to Koyuk. We will know by the interviews at the Kaltag or Unalakleet checkpoint to see what the goals are for the teams that are in the top ten. Many times it becomes a race to maintain position or improve upon.
Modern Iditarods have not seen a large group of mushers who can be in contention and having four mushers aiming for the number one spot on the Yukon keeps it an interesting race.
Sam Towarak, retired school teacher, dog musher, and sports commentator, lives in Unalakleet, Alaska.