Emily Schwing, KUCB - Unalaska
Mushers have been travelling this year’ Iditarod trail from Fairbanks with few complains, but after the left Tanana Wednesday, they found a slow, soft trail.
Denali musher Jeff King led the Iditarod front-runners into Galena…with Aliy Zirkle and Aaron Burmeister arriving around an hour and a half later. The Iditarod saw its first scratch of the race, as Zoya DeNure made the decision in Tanana, citing personal reasons.
Race Update 6:00 pm: Five mushers were closing in on Ruby. The group of leaders included Mitch Seavey, Dallas Seavey, Aaron Burmeister, Martin Buser and Aliy Zirkle. The Mackey brothers were taking a layover in Tanana.
The Mackey family has long been known as a mushing dynasty within the Iditarod community. Patriarch Dick Mackey won the race in 1978. Years later, Lance Mackey claimed four championships in a row. Little brother Jason just might take on the most meaningful race of his life. When Jason Mackey arrived in Tanana, he was not feeling good about his dog team.
Travelling a thousand miles by dog team can be exciting, but many of those miles can also be repetitive, so many mushers carry iPods stocked with music, audio books, and even movies.
Aliy Zirkle’s team was the first out of Tanana Tuesday night, leading the field down the Yukon River toward Ruby on the race’s longest leg. Mushers are required to take a mandatory eight-hour rest at a checkpoint along the river. Sub-zero temperatures helped some mushers decide to take the rest early.
Brent Sass has been disqualified from the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The musher was informed by race Marshall Mark Nordman after he arrived in Tanana that he will not be able to continue the race because the Eureka-based musher violated a rule about using a wireless communication device on the trail.
Martin Buser regained the early lead in this year’s Iditarod. He was the first to Tanana Tuesday afternoon. He was followed by Hugh Neff and Aliy Zirkle, both had made it to Tanana by early evening.
Girdwood’s Nicolas Petit pulled into Manley Hot Springs just after 3 a.m. Tuesday, with Martin Buser, Hugh Neff, DeeDee Jonrowe and Aaron Burmeister less than two hours behind. The competition in this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race can only be described as stiff. There are six returning champions and a handful of other mushers vying for a top-10 finish. But, mushers are all feeling a little new to the race as they travel down an unfamiliar, rerouted trail.
Race Update 6:30: Past Iditarod champion Martin Buser and rookie Thomas Waerner were the first in to and out of Nenana Monday afternoon. They were trailed by Michelle Phillips and Jessie Royer. Buser arrived about 3:00 p.m. He took off shortly before 3:30 p.m. Waerner was bout 30 minutes behind Buser. DeeDee Jonrowe and Aliy Zirkle left Nenana minutes apart and were trailing the leaders Monday afternoon.
This year 78 mushers are signed up to drive dog teams in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but only a third of them are women. In the Yukon Quest, only 3 of 26 mushers who started this year were women. Despite the small numbers, many are up-and-coming mushers who are redefining what it means to run dogs.
The bells of the historic Immaculate Conception Cathedral in downtown Fairbanks rang in honor of legendary musher George Attla who died this week as Eureka musher Brent Sass cruised across the finish line to win this year’s Yukon Quest.
There are three Yukon Quest teams currently running among the top-10 that did not plan on racing with the front-runners when they left Whitehorse. In fact, none of them were able to complete the race last year, so they returned simply to finish what they started.
Jeff King won the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race back in 1989. He is also well-known on the Iditarod trail, having won Alaska’s other 1,000 mile sled dog race four times. This year, he returned to the Quest, but decided to scratch from the race after only 300 miles.
Lance Mackey is currently running in 12th place on the Yukon Quest trail. He is the winningest musher in Yukon Quest history. The four-time champion is a cancer survivor and both his public and private life hasn’t always been positive. The lifelong musher knows he can’t run dogs the way he used to, but he may never be ready to hang up the harnesses.
The lack of snow in the Alaska Range has persuaded the Iditarod Trail Committee to move the race start to Fairbanks. After a flyover, mushers say the Dalzell Gorge is impassable and the Farewell Burn area is, again, completely bare.
Brent Sass was the first Yukon Quest musher to arrive today in Dawson City, the halfway point on the Yukon Quest trail. The 200-mile stretch of trail to Dawson City is the longest between official race checkpoints.
On the Yukon Quest Trail, there are a few things mushers have to be especially picky about including a sturdy sled. Jumble ice near McCabe Creek, half way to Pelly Crossing is testing sled engineering this year.
Of the 26 mushers signed up to race dog teams in this year’s Yukon Quest International Sled Dog race, 10 are rookies. They might be new to the race, but a few trained dog teams with a handful of well-known and champion long-distance mushers.