Monday, March 3, 2014

Recap of Day 2 on the Trail

Flying home from Anchorage by light plane at 120  miles per hour  I barely beat the  front runners through the Alaska Range.    I don’t keep records  but I  sure don’t recall anyone arriving in Rohn earlier than  Kelly Maixner did today,  and there were several more teams not far behind.  As noted last night, the traveling speed has not been unusually fast but the rest time has been shorter than ever.

Martin Buser rested a bit at Rainy Pass and then blew through Rohn, and has a 19 mile lead over Aily Zirkle at this moment. Both  Team Baker  outfits rested  at Rainy Pass and should be arriving at Rohn shortly.  Interestingly,  Katherine  Keith beat  John Baker into Rainy by 13 minutes.  Of course those minutes are  meaningless at this point, but anyone who expected Katherine to lag far behind is in for a big surprise.  She has had excellent preparation for her first Iditarod, and  has  a good shot at rookie of the year.  She mentioned before the race that in training she would sometimes beat  John home.  A weak team rarely beats a strong team home, but of course John attributed  that to her failure to keep the dogs’ speed under control.  Right now Katherine is the top rookie but there are a bunch of strong rookies in the same vicinity.

As for other rural teams,  Mike Williams Jr. is speeding along and was the third team into Rohn where he rested.  Richie Diehl and  Pete Kaiser left Rainy a bit before the Kotzebue pair.   

News accounts describe rough conditions on the back side of Rainy Pass.  Most years that run is a challenge.  Many of the current bunch of top racers has done the pass  10-20 times or more. They still admit that getting through can be dicey.  In my only run through the pass as a total greenhorn,  I remember dropping onto glare ice at the bottom of the pass on a flat stream that runs toward  Rohn checkpoint.  While glare ice is not great trail, after the pass it seems like a treat  to be on flat going for a bit.  Before the race Pete Kaiser  mentioned  he looks forward to that ice as well, even though he is a skilled racer  with several races in his resume. I don’t remember much of the pass though because my  eyes were closed much of the time.

The  long run to Nikolai from Rohn usually sorts out a handful  of teams who try unsuccessfully to stay with the front runners.  The winner of the Iditarod is almost always among the top ten out of Nikolai, and usually  in the top five.  But in recent years the eventual  winner is rarely the first team to leave. 

2014 Iditarod is well underway

The 2014 Iditarod is well underway, and once again I will be providing race analysis  here on the  teamjohnbaker  website.  This will be my third year providing regular analysis, and I look forward to an interesting race. 

During the first night of the race, familiar patterns  have developed.  Martin Buser is speeding along in front, nearing  Rainy Pass  at 6 am.  Reports from the trail describe very hard packed snow, and  the pace suggests  a very fast trail.   That doesn’t always mean that the dogs are moving at an exceptional speed, sometimes it means that there is little drag and the teams can move longer distances on less rest because  they are not working as hard.  Tracker speeds don’t seem to be unusually high on the front running teams.

Buser’s strategy has worked well for him some years, other years not so well.  Just last year he jumped in front and stayed there for quite a while, but was moving much slower than the top teams which passed him later in the race.

John Baker has usually employed a much more conservative approach to the start of the race.  He rested almost 4 hours at Skwentna leaving in 39th place.  Katherine Keith employed a similar strategy and she has already rested for  more than 5 hours at the same checkpoint after arriving just 18 minutes behind John.

Temperatures have cooled a bit overnight after a very warm day at the  restart in Willow.  Forecasts today call for below freezing temperatures along the trail into the Alaska range.