Saturday, March 9, 2013

Late Night out of Kaltag by Myron Angstman

The tracker tells us that several teams left  Kaltag and are moving slowly. The first  18 miles are  reported to be chewed up trail, and the teams are  displaying that.   One new name on the contender list is Ray  Redington. He has  had impressive times lately, and he is in position to make a bug push now.  Keep an eye  on him.  Dallas Seavey has moved back into contention as well.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking 

Back of the Pack by Myron Angstman

As the  back of the pack makes their way to Eagle Island I am reminded of one of my favorite stories about that place.  For many years Ralph Conatser  lived at Eagle Island and served as checker.  I visited Ralph and his wife Helmie and their son Steve often,  and  soon learned that  Ralph  was  great at telling a story.  Some of his stories probably can’t be printed on the Team Baker website, but  this story is   PG rated.

It seems a group of six mushers bunched  up at the very  back of the Iditarod and were very slowly making their way to Nome a  few years back.  They had a hard time making it to Eagle Island because of blowing snow which quickly obliterated the trail, much like today  on that same stretch.  When the group  reached  Eagle Island they were worn out,  and settled in for a couple days of rest.  Ralph was anxious to  get them on their way and wrap up his job as checker,  and  get back to enjoying his quiet life  on the Yukon.  The leader of the six, a race  veteran,  approached  Ralph with a question about when a snow machine could be expected  to come by headed for Kaltag. Ralph told them it rarely happens after the race passes through.

Right about then Dean Painter showed up from Grayling to pick up the left over dog food for his team.  Ralph devised a plan.  He asked Dean if he wanted to hire on to put in a trail to Kaltag. Dean agreed, and said $50 per racer seemed about  right.  Ralph floated the idea with the six racers, who quickly rounded up $300 cash.  They returned with the  money and handed it over to Ralph, who was serving as the middle man.  Ralph took the money to Dean, who  unhitched his  sled and took off for Kaltag.  Now for a man from rural Alaska,  a contract such as this is not for some time in the future. Once Dean  was paid, it was  time to leave, even though it was about 6 am.   One fact increased his  desire to leave quickly—the next village  up from Kaltag is Nulato, where adult beverages can be purchased.  Grayling and other  villages in the area  are dry.

About a half hour later, the musher rep came back to Ralph and asked when Dean would be leaving, and was shocked to learn he had already taken off.  The six  racers  hurried to prepare  their teams and took off about  an hour later, just as it was good light.  Ralph watched them leave  his place, and for the first stretch of river the trail was easy to see, protected from the wind.   All six were in a bunch, as they slipped out of sight around the bend.  From his long years on the Yukon,  Ralph knew that as soon as they got around the bend, the  stiff north   would leave them with a blown in trail,  scarcely a sign of  Dean’s  $300 contract from there to  Kalskag.  But  they were gone,  and the checkpoint was closed.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking 

Saturday on the Iditarod by Myron Ansgtman

The Iditarod tracker has more information deep in its pages than anyone should really look for, if they have a real life.   I apparently don’t cause I spend a lot of time checking it out.  Today’s check reveals a few items of interest.  It does not appear that  Martin Buser can hold his lead. It is down to about 10  miles now over Aliy Zirkle  and a few more miles over a bunch of other teams. The lead has evaporated on the trail, as the chase teams are moving  somewhat faster than Martin.   At least one, and perhaps a bunch of teams will pass him in the next day or two.

Who has the best  shot at winning right now?  There are a number of  teams  still  in the mix.  One team that continues to shine is  Jake Berkowitz.  In addition to having the fastest travel time between the last two checkpoints, the tracker shows that he has his fastest speeds at the end of those runs.  Most of the other teams, including speedy Mitch Seavey, slow down a bit at the end of a long run.  To check that you need to go to the tracker and click on analytics, and  study the graph.  Tedious work, but  not as tedious  as running a dog team for days on end.  By the way,  faster speeds  at the end of a run usually mean the team has greater endurance than  one  that slows down at the end of  a run.  And after all, this is a race of endurance.  One can assume that as the race draws to a close, the team that still has speed at the end of a long run can  remain moving if needed to gain time, while the slowing team might have to stop.

The three teams mentioned above are  currently  Buser’s main  competition, but others are right there as well.  The rookie  Joar Ulsom  is  drawing more attention as he goes, and is certainly a factor.  Sonny Lindner is  a bit back but moving hard.  Jessie Royer has yet to take her eight hour layover  but is emerging as a  threat and don’t count  out Jeff King, who just took his eight hour and has the fastest moving average speed for the   whole race.

Trail conditions, weather, and plain old luck will figure in as well.    Also, weight of the mushers could be a factor.  There is a reason why  they use light weight jockeys in horse racing.  It allows the horse to move faster.  The same applies to  dog racing.  Anyone who wants to slow their team down on a training run adds 50 pounds to the sled.  Using a GPS, you can remove the weight and  notice an increase in speed. Obviously the dogs expend less energy pulling a lighter load as well.   We don’t know the exact weights of the  contenders, but I can  tell you what  appears obvious from seeing these  racers in person.  Berkowitz is the heaviest among the front runners,   and several racers are substantially lighter. That makes a difference all the time, but more so on uphill portions of the trail, and there are a few of them left.  In a  close race, that is surely a factor.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking 

Mushers on the Yukon by Sam Towarak

Hello race fans, especially Iditarod race fans. I have held quiet till the dog teams have arrived in my back yard. We hope to jump into a snow machine and head up the Portage later today. Myron has done an excellent job in covering the race so far, I have thoroughly enjoyed his blogs.

So far the move by Martin Buser at the beginning of the race has paid off. When we concluded the last blog I had about improving the way for the mushers to improve their race, I thought that efficiencies in the early part of the race was one area to improve but I did not have a run to Rohn with minimal rest in mind. I watched John Baker in the early part of the race to look for efficiencies and I agreed with everything he had done given the circumstances he was in (warm weather with dogs that have trained all year in very cold weather). That said, I am very happy with his current situation given the warm weather so far in the Iditarod. Mind you the weather is an anomaly given the cold February we had faced.

Another note on Martin Buser’s lead. Earlier this year Martin participated in the Putty Johnson 450 Memorial & I observed his second team in action near Old Woman. I noted that the team was trotting with similar movement to the Clydesdales we see on television. The dogs were trotting in a team rhythm and their postures were upright (similar postures seen by marathon runners). There was only one other time I had seen this before and that was watching John Baker’s two running teams in the 2009 Kobuk 440. I commented to Martin that the team’s gait was similar to how John’s teams trot and asked him if he was changing his style of speed & long rests to trotting long distance. His reply was that he is sticking to using speed and sticking to how he always runs the race. However in his reply, I sensed a change of direction in his approach to the Iditarod never knowing that he would run to Rohn- what a stroke of genius.

If you ever watch teams of the top contenders like John Baker running during late stages of the Iditarod, you are missing out on watching a thing of beauty. Another note worth mentioning in this blog is that the dog food destined for Eagle Island did leave Unalakleet on Friday via Ryan Air Transport to Kaltag. There should be some bags at Eagle Island. Related to late food drops, the weather has been very moist with visibility limited for the Iditarod air force to do their job- its been a logistical challenge.

Finally, the weather on the coast should be a non-factor to the mushers as its predicted for low winds, and mid teens to twenties. However there is predicted to be snow today in the Portage (energy expended- more dog food to carry) but that has been decreased from 4 inches to one-two inches. The challenge of the Iditarod has so many variables, I am surprised these professional mushers can adapt.

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