Monday, March 11, 2013

Rollercoaster! By Myron Angstman

The race has changed dramatically during this run from  Koyuk to Elim.   All my previous picks  can be disregarded. We all have been reminded   why it is foolish to handicap  a long distance  dog race. There are too many variables.   We have four teams sitting in Elim, several more close by, and the race from White Mountain  to Nome should a  doozy.    That might be spelled wrong but you  get the idea.

What appears to be happening from this distance  is there is some weakness up front,   and no one has the ability to simply stay on the trail without  stopping  from Koyuk to  White Mountain. That allowed the teams a ways back to tighten up the gap, and now we have  a bunch of teams who could win it on the last run.  Basically the fastest team  leaving White Mountain within a few miles of the first team out is likely to win, and we won’t know who that is until tomorrow.

It is likely to be the most exciting finish in years.

In and out of Koyuk by Myron Angstman

Jeff King pulled through Koyuk without much of a stop to take the lead away from Mitch Seavey. Those two, barring a big run from Zirkle or Redington, seem to have the only shot for this year’s title, at least from the long range view out my window in Bethel. King has the edge, mainly because he is in first and moving fastest. I have noted his moving speed has been the highest throughout the race, but he was a ways back until Unalakleet where a strong run from Kaltag moved him into contention. In recent years, with an eight hour rest at White Mountain, that checkpoint has become the unofficial finish line, as the winning team is usually the first team in there. Even a tired team at White Mountain is hard to catch after 8 hours of rest. So if King maintains his 6-8 mile lead until White Mountain, he is the likely winner.
We know the King has a fresher team right now because he gained about ½ hour on the run into Koyuk. Observers noted that Seavey looked tired coming in, which is understandable after the pace these racers have maintained for days. His realization that King has the faster team certainly contributes to his weariness. Along with having the faster team, King also has the most rest throughout the race (the two factors contribute to each other of course). King held back a bit in the early part of the race, and now it pays off.
Redington and Zirkle can’t be ignored. They had strong finishes last year and they have had good runs this year to be where they are today. But they were close to two hours behind Seavey arriving in Koyuk, and that is a major gap at this point in the race. Burmeister and Ulsom are in the same group, but moving a bit slower so are likely out of the running for first.
John Baker pulled into Shaktoolik 17th, and has a big challenge to make his way into the top ten based on his current moving speed. He arrived in that check point about four hours after the tenth place team DeeDee Jonrowe. He is now on his way to Koyuk.
Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking

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

Sunday Night by Myron Angstman

Six teams still are in the running, according to my unofficial calculations, and among those six one is fading from contention.   Aaron Burmeister has run a wonderful race,  but is losing ground tonight on the run to Shaktoolik, as he did on the run into Unalakleet.  That probably means there are only five left, Seavey,  King, Zirkle,  Ulsom and   Redington. Those teams were the first six out of Unalakleet, and  the next one out, Berkowitz is  probably a little late leaving if he hopes to catch  the teams in front of him.

Among the leaders, King has the fastest moving team so he  might have a slight  edge, but  at this stage of the race speed can disappear quickly if a team is pushed hard.  This is the tightest group of front runners in recent memory, and the prospect is for an exciting finish.  That  is not always the case on the Iditarod when someone pulls away the last couple of days.

John Baker has moved up well in the last  few days, and has a real shot at the top ten now.   He has done it  by sticking to a routine  he knew his team could handle,  hoping that  the teams in front would  battle each other hard  enough to wear out and  slow down. In some cases, that has happened.  John often moves up in the  standings at the end, which  means his  team  has been used well and has plenty in reserve.  That style of racing doesn’t always mean first place, but  for John is usually means top ten.

Another rural racer Pete Kaiser  had a good run to Unalakleet after waiting longer than some at Eagle Island.  He was down to 10 dogs  there, which is a little low  that far from Nome. Best guess is he gave them extra rest to make sure he had  enough dogs  on the coast.

Night owls will watch the  tracker closely tonight because  the race could be  mostly decided by tomorrow.  Shaktoolik is a place where  racers sometimes blow right through in a last effort to make up time.  The run from there is about  60 miles to Koyuk, and  that makes about a 100 mile run from Unalakleet.  At this stage of the race that is a long haul with a  major break, but it has been done.

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