Monday, March 11, 2013

Up the Coast by Sam Towarak

When you go to the checkpoint to meet the dog teams, you suddenly realize the Iditarod race is about how your team is doing and not worried about the teams in front or back of you. Often times you hear mushers talk about how well your team is doing and how much care is going to get the dog team into peak condition. This year is one of those year where this is a race of individuals striving to do their best with the team potential that remains.

This has been a challenging Iditarod given the extremely warm temperatures, the wet rain/snow conditions, dealing with a strategic change of two mushers, the Yukon overflow (pictures showing dogs swimming- mind you not walking across overflow) and heavy snow that makes an uneven trail as well as mounds of snow needed to climb over in order to continue on the trail. Usually mushers come into Unalakleet talking about how they will move on to Nome in anticipation of how many positions they will advance. This year has been about needed dog care in order to maintain position.

You got the sense that teams as high as number 6 were worried about how they can maintain position. Even more daunting is the knowledge of the top five that teams higher than they can falter back at any moment in the race. This race revealed that the current situation ( a sudden storm) was not the reason for slowing down but was an accumulation of the past days events. One musher thought he was in the 30th position when in fact, he was in the top ten- an indication of the struggles of individual racing. The challenges facing the Iditarod were never more apparent.

We see mushers crossing the Norton Bay today. Mitch Seavey has command of the lead in terms of position, time ahead and team speed. His methodical work and consistency has reaped benefits of leading across Norton Bay. Two of the top five mushers showed great enthusiasm about the progress of their team. Two of the mushers showed the rigors of the trail as they were affected by the hard work and lack of sleep from the prior days.

The average age of top five crossing Norton Bay is 42 with three being 36/37. Last year we were talking of a youth movement and the changing of the guard. This year shows that the veterans are back with a vengence. The grit and determination had to have started with last years finish which included the young mushers. Martin Buser changed his approach to the race with the goal of winning the race, something that has eluded him since 2002. Veterans set the tone for the race this year.

Sensing the need to give the dogs better care to improve their position has been the mantra of this race- The Last Great Race

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