Monday, March 10, 2014
Some analysts just don’t know much. Aily Zirkle is now in the lead near Safety. Best info is that a ground blizzard stopped Jeff King, and he has been stalled at the same place for about an hour. Its around 25 miles to Nome, and its a dog race.
Bad weather near Safety might cause a shake-up in the finish. Jeff King has stopped for a period of time near Safety, likely because of bad winds and blowing snow. This reporting mechanism can’t possibly keep you correctly updated, but watch Facebook for more details.
Much of the suspense surrounding the Iditarod finish has been eliminated with the mandatory 8 hour layover in White Mountain. I was on the race board when the rule was discussed, and some mentioned it would create an unofficial finish line at that location and indeed it has. Teams jockey for position arriving at White Mountain, knowing well that after an eight hour rest, most good teams will have a strong run to Nome and positions won’t change much. Jeff King is rolling along toward his fifth victory, in record time. The suspense of that win disappeared when King pulled away from Zirkle leaving Koyuk. All that’s left now is to collect his prize.
As a guy who also pulls for the underdog, it would be nice to see new people win the race. That is not to detract from King’s win, it’s just a personal preference. Other fans like to see champions win over and over. I know King fairly well and he understands that everyone has their favorite musher. He also knows that I respect his ability to win five times. One has to feel for Zirkle and her third straight second place finish. One can always say wait for next year but things change. A special dog grows older and his replacement is not as special. Any number of such problems could prevent Zirkle from having a front running team in the future. Look at Sonny Lindner. He finished second so long ago I can’t remember the year, and he will retire this year without winning.
Aside from the finish there appears to be some weather related drama back in the pack. Winds have been clocked around 40 mph. Long run times for teams from Elim to White Mountain show that the wind is creating issues. There are parts of the tail that are blow holes, and Golovin Bay is one such place. With glare ice, big winds make travel very difficult. If there was loose snow blowing as well it would be nearly impossible. The trip from Shaktoolik to Koyuk will not be much fun tonight, and there are stretches in the last 40 miles to Nome that are rough in the wind as well. The wind is mostly a tail wind reportedly at that location, but still not easy.
One of the worst parts of big wind on the coast is the mental part. After the grueling miles covered to get there, it sort of one last insult to the racers. I have hanging in my office an old photo on the Safety to Nome stretch, showing myself and the dogs leaning into the wind, sled tilted, and dogs ears blowing sideways. Shouted encouragement from a few hardy fans could barely be heard. And that was after the wind died down that day. I believe my exact quote was “where the hell is Nome?”
John Baker is in Elim, and apparently he and others camped there can feel the wind cause they have stayed a long time. Youngsters Pete Kaiser and Richie Diehl are buddies with Baker, and know him to be a guy who trains in heavy winds. If he is sitting tight, they probably figure it’s a good idea. Running as they are in the middle of the paying positions, there is not a great incentive to stumble off into such a blustery night.
Katherine Keith left Shaktoolik in the afternoon and appears to be only about 15 miles out of the checkpoint, where there is a shelter cabin. From this far away, my advice is to stay there. The weather is not expected to improve into. Paige Drobny appears to be stopped about 15 miles ahead of her. The current weather at Shaktoolik is -2 degrees, with a 46 mph wind. I have raced in similar weather, and I get a bad feeling when I type those words.
Iditarod officials have a good pulse on events like this, and it is likely there will be efforts mademorning to check on any teams not in checkpoints. That doesn’t make the night any shorter for the ones that are out there.
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.