Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Aaron Burmeister claims the Gold

As predicted there has not been much movement today with most teams on their  24 hour rest.   Five teams moved between Ophir and  Cripple  with Aaron Burmeister arriving first and winning the $3000 in gold.  John Baker was among the  five, making a big move through Takotna last night.  How that  tactic pans out won’t be known  until tomorrow when  all the teams are moving again.

Martin Buser left  Nikolai after completing his rest, and is moving well.  Last year   he  lost speed  by blasting out of the starting line to Rohn.  This year he seems to have preserved his speed.  At this point  he seems to be a solid contender for  the top spot.

Other teams who seem to have been moving well before resting were Zirkle,  Sorlie, both Seaveys and of course Jeff King.   King provided a rare glimpse of  how it feels to be on a sled descending  Rainy Pass.  His helmet cam video is posted on Iditarod Insider and is scary to watch.  I did the same trail with  a primitive sled with no brush bow, meaning I didn’t  glance off trees as well as I should have.  That was a  long time ago, but that video brought back intense memories of the  run down, my first ever steep drop on a dog sled.

Most teams, including Katherine Keith, stopped at Takotna to rest. Pictures of the food spread there are easily found on  various media sites.  Meals are made to order, and homemade  pie is always  available.  I don’t know when that tradition started , but there was  a time when the checkpoint  was  located at the Takotna tavern (now closed)  It was an old time place, with a small bar that seated about 6 people, and a larger back room for dancing and card playing.  When I raced,  there was a local guitar player, a guy making sandwiches, and one free beer for each  racer.   I stopped  at -30, and it was hard to leave.

Part of my description of Takotna hospitality was deemed to  racy for publication.  If you bump into me anytime, ask me to tell the story.  It’s a good one, and of course its true.

Tomorrow evening it will be time to pick five teams from which the winner  will emerge, but  because that will be hard to do, it may expand to  8, and I still might be wrong.

The Race Goes On

Wed morning report--   The growing number of scratches (12 as of now) will  focus discussion for a while on the decision made  recently  to use the traditional  Willow start  instead of switching  the trail to Fairbanks to avoid the Alaska Range.   I don’t have enough of the facts  known to the  race organizers  at the time  they made their decision to second guess.  As  one of the people who has made similar decisions for the Kuskokwim 300  for 35 years,  I know such issues are hard to deal with.   It is not a simple as looking for  the best available trail.  There wasn’t going to be unanimous support for either  starting spot this year.

I do know that after the decision was made the weather didn’t  really cooperate.  Warm temperatures race week surely made the trail worse than it had been.  And for many racers the location of the main area of concern moved from one side of the Alaska range to the  other as race day approached.  But one question  still lingers in my mind: knowing full well  the conditions  ahead, why do so many teams still drive such tiny lightweight sleds during the first part of the race?

Because  racers can send out replacement sleds, why not  have a sturdy sled for the tough going and more of a  racer for the rest of the trail?   When Andy  Angstman ran the race in the low snow year of 2007, he used an all aluminum sled  built like a small tank. Such a device was designed to be more or less unbreakable, and  would have been a good choice for this year.  Not only are such sleds harder to break, they provide the racer more protection from obstacles in tough going.

Meanwhile, the race goes on but with a number of folks moving past  Takotna for  their 24 hour  rest, including John Baker.  That makes analysis very difficult.   It will stay that way for  another couple of days as we see how teams fare in their   first big runs after their break.  Naming a leader right now would be difficult, but two guys driving fast teams last night were Jeff King  and Robert Sorlie.   Those fast speeds were recorded during the run from  Nikolai to McGrath, at a time when long runs and short rests  would have made the dogs somewhat weary. It’s a long way to the finish, but both of those teams should be among the top few  at  Nome.

Tonight, as promised, a report on Takotna hospitality.