Dallas Seavey is hanging onto a narrow Iditarod lead. He pulled into the Elim checkpoint at a little before 4pm this afternoon. Aliy Zirkle joined him there soon after. Just a mile or two separated them on the run from Koyuk. Aaron Burmeister, Ramey Smyth and Pete Kaiser are chasing the leaders.
By this afternoon, more than half of the 57 remaining mushers had reached Unalakleet, the place where jockeying for position traditionally begins. Among the middle of the pack was former front runner and champion Lance Mackey. He looked broken.
He’s further back in the race than he was at this point last year, when he finished 16th, and he’s leaving with nine dogs, one of whom has a minor injury, but he’s too stubborn to drop the dog.
Mackey’s lead dog has been in heat since the restart and is driving the rest of his dogs wild. Mackey says he’ll finish this race with her, but after she delivers the litter he might have her spayed.
Mackey isn’t the only musher having trouble with dogs in heat. Colorado musher Lock-lan Clark scratched back in Galena because too many of his females were in heat and he was down to a six dog team. Thus far he’s finished five Iditarods and scratched three. Looking at the standing board, he says that at this point in the race, the leaders are making key strategic moves.
For example, Ken Anderson and Mike Williams decided to fly through Shaktoolik instead of taking a multiple hour rest like many of the others. Another frequent strategy is to go straight from Koyuk to White Mountain, though the terrain after Elim could pose some problems if your team isn’t up to it.
Brent Sass is the top rookie in this year’s race so far. The Fairbanks musher is attempting to complete his first Iditarod after running the Yukon Quest six times. He has often found himself surrounded at checkpoints by Iditarod champions like Lance Mackey, Martin Buser and Rick Swenson. And he says he’s trying to seize every opportunity to learn from them.
At White Mountain the mushers are required to take an 8-hour break before the last push to Safety then Nome.
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