So it came down to this: all the predictions have been tossed aside, and the final run to Nome will decide this year’s Iditarod. That rarely happens, and right now its very hard to determine who has the edge.
Some are suggesting Aliy Zirkle because she gained so much on the last run into White Mountain. That means a lot, but the eight hour rest might change that dynamic to favor Mitch Seavey. He has had a faster team much of the race, and could recover that advantage with rest. Trail conditions are also a major factor. Yesterday the trail was bottomless sugary snow, and that may have favored Zirkle. She has had the most animated, lively team among the leaders according to reports all along the trail, and that kind of team handles bad trail better than one starting to lose interest. No one has said much about the condition of the trail remaining, but one thought is there will be a lot of snow machine traffic, and in recent years, more traffic means more lousy trail for dog racing because of the style of tracks on newer machines.
I am picking Zirkle, but that’s only because I’m not afraid of being wrong. Eight hours rest is substantial but might not be enough to overcome what was an obvious speed advantage Zirkle had yesterday. She should speed up too with the long rest, and observers note that she is a fanatical ski poler, which counts in the final going. Because TeamJohnBaker allows me to say whatever I want on this page, I will admit I am pulling for her. I have several reasons, but first is a desire to see people win their first Iditarod. Zirkle has certainly earned such a reward with years of hard work, and a strong second place finish last year. She has also raced in the Kuskokwim 300, my favorite race, which earns her points. She is smart, capable and well respected in the racing world, and of course she is a woman. Many of us appreciate the fact that this sport allows men and women to compete evenly, and it has been a while since a woman won.
It will be the most closely watched last lap in the history of the race. Most recent races have been pretty much over at White Mountain. Earlier races which were close had little coverage, by comparison. Once in a while, we would get a snow machine report during night finishes or an airplane report during the day. The radio would report “Swenson is ahead by about 2 miles at Topkok” but such reports were often followed by “Swenson is stopped and Butcher is gaining fast” so we had no way of knowing for sure.
This time we will know mile for mile how this classic event is ending. It should be fun.
Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking http://www.myronangstman.com/