The two team race from last night is now down to mainly a one team race. Unless unusual circumstances develop tonight Jeff King will set a new record time and win his fifth Iditarod. He leads by about an hour, and has consistently had strong runs since taking his late 24 hour break at Ruby. If past race history is a guide, look for many teams to wait longer for their 24 hour break in the future. Even though King may have won this race by taking his break anywhere, racers often go with the a successful race plan employed by a champion the following year.
Aily Zirkle seems a good bet for second, although Dallas Seavey has made up a lot of ground in the last couple of days. He is likely third, and from there it becomes muddled. John Baker is 15th into Koyuk and could move higher. Katherine Keith is out of Unalakleet in 30th place, the last paying position.
Yesterday I promised a tale or two about Joe Redington Sr., the man who started the Iditarod in the 1970’s. I raced against Redington in the Iditarod, Kuskokwim 300, John Beargrease and Coldfoot Classic. All provided stories, because Old Joe was that kind of guy. For example, in the 300, I was right behind Joe coming into Bethel during the 1982 race on a bright sunny day. He was running second, but it looked like I was ready to pass him. Joe was an equipment hog, and always had a heavy sled full of gear. We had about 10 miles to go and it was too late for him to lighten his sled because there were no more checkpoints. But that didn’t stop Joe. He started messing with his double battery pack (five pounds or so) and pretended to drop it on the trail. He hollered back to ask me if I would grab it. I grabbed it, and realized it was a net change of ten pounds in sled weight. I spotted a snow machine driver I knew and tossed him the battery pack, and asked him to deliver it to Joe at the finish line. I was able to pass him anyway, even with his lighter sled.
In the 1986 Coldfoot race, held in April in the Brooks Range, night time temps were dropping out of sight. Before we started it was dropping to -45, and warming to 20 above during long daylight hours in April. On the first day of the race, Joe pulled up by me and we chatted a bit. He was off his sled, and his dogs pulled the hook and took off up the Koyukuk River, which was mostly ice. He hopped in my sled and we followed. Luckily we caught them in about 20 minutes, parked along the edge of the river just before dark. We camped in the woods nearby and the temp started to drop quickly. Joe fed his dogs and crawled into his sled in the biggest sleeping bag I had ever seen about midnight. He zipped up his sled cover and asked me to wake him up when I got up, which I planned for about 4 am, before daylight. When I woke up after a cold night in the sled, I shook Joe’s sled. “Time to go Joe”. Joe, then nearing 70 years old, asked me to check his thermometer attached to his sled. I shined my headlight at the gauge, which read -56 and reported to Joe. “I think I’ll sleep a little while longer” he wisely responded. Since that day I have often wondered what would have happened if we failed to find his team before dark the night before.
As years go by fewer people remember the role Joe played in starting and growing the Iditarod. Without his effort and vision there would be no Iditarod, and likely no long distance racing. All of us involved in the sport, including fans, need to be honor his role in this sport, and what better day than today when we prepare for the finish.