Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Team Baker is proving to be solid and strong

As suggested this morning, the list of contenders is starting to materialize as teams  approach Takotna.   The top ten teams on the current list have all earned contender status, and a handful more also deserve watching.   John Baker is certainly a factor with a strong  move up  today, currently  listed as 12th.  A handful of teams back in the pack also could contend including Martin Buser who will  likely regain the lead after doing his 24 hour rest in Nikolai.  Kelly  Maixner also bears watching based on his fast dash to Rohn before taking his rest.   Mike Williams Jr.  is not far off Buser’s  pace, but he is down to 10 dogs.

Katherine Keith is solidly  in the running for rookie of the year, currently in the top 20 and not that far  behind Baker.  Her move out of Nikolai after the obviously grueling run into that village shows her durability.

Sonny Linder was the first team out of Nikolai and also first into McGrath, where he  is doing his 24 hour rest.  Lindner is currently the oldest musher in the race at  64, and many consider him to be a serious contender for the top spot.  He has a previous second place finish, and has gradually improved his finishes in the past few years. His  day in the lead caused me to remember two  Lindner  stories that are worthy of sharing.  

One story involved  the Coldfoot Classic  dog race in 1986 when he and I shared a snowbank  for a few hours during a break.  As most  racers will admit, there are times that are less fun than others, and this one of those moments.   Lindner asked me that day to promise him that if he was still racing dogs after the age of 50 that I would  find him in some checkpoint and shoot him.  Of course I promised and I remind him of that every year around  March 1st.

The other story involves a visit to a bar in Nome after  the All-Alaska Sweepstakes in 1983.  Lindner  had helped  winner Rick Swenson  in the race and I finished back a ways.  We planned to have a couple beers to rehash the race. The young attractive waitress came by and  asked if we were dog racers.  Somebody  said yes, and while looking at Lindner she gushed  “Oh I recognize you, you’re the cute one.”    Guess who got stuck with the tab.

There won’t be a lot of movement tomorrow with a bunch of teams taking their mandatory rest, many at Takotna where the hospitality is unmatched.  Tomorrow’s report  will detail  how hospitality at Takotna has changed from earlier years.

The deck is about to get shuffled...24 hour layovers

Martin Buser’s early  Tuesday arrival in Nikolai is  astounding.    He got there  about  4 ½ hours ahead of Nicholas Petit,  and no one else will be within 6 hours it appears. The next couple of runs will  show whether the frantic pace has taken too much speed out of Buser’s  team.  Recent history  suggests that will be the case. 

The tracker shows  John Baker and Katherine Keith about 40 miles out of Nikolai at  7 am,  which places them in the mid teens in the standings.  It is interesting that the Iditarod has changed the format of the tracker.  It started  by having the teams in order of their bibs, but now it is in the order of placement which makes it a lot easier for fans.   Next they should put numerical position next to each racer.  Spot Trackers are now used for the first time by the Iditarod,  and  the tried and true format used for the trackers in other races was  junked.  This morning  there is a reference to outside interference with the Iditarod website, which has had some technical  issues  from the start of the race.

The Team Baker website also has issues.  No one has figured out how to update the  basic  information from last year’s  site.  Of course,  most have figured out  that the same guy is writing these reports, Myron Angstman,  and obviously  all the dates should read  2014.

Mike Williams Jr.  is currently in the top ten.  He has had a tough  year for training in Akiak on the Kuskokwim.   The last couple of months have been on glare ice, and before that it was only a bit better.  Yet he is running with the front of the pack.  It probably doesn’t hurt that  the trail he is now using is similar to the one he trained on.  Dogs learn to move differently  on ice with a little practice.  My dogs have always  done fairly well on ice, and  poorly in deep snow because of their Kuskokwim training.

Today the teams will start  arriving in Takotna and  the order will be a lot  different than it is right now.  It takes a strong team to keep the current pace of the front runners, rest a few hours in Nikolai and then  drive 75 more mile to Takotna where  a majority of the teams  will take their  24  hour rest.  By tomorrow, predictions start to make a little sense.