Emily Schwing, KUAC - Fairbanks
Emily Schwing is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.
Mitch Seavey left the Iditarod checkpoint of White Mountain at 1:11 this afternoon. Aliy Zirkle followed 13 minutes later. According to GPS, she is currently running about one mile behind Seavey. Seavey is a former Iditarod champion. Zirkle’s best finish in the race was second, last year.
Thirteen minutes is all that stands between Mitch Seavey and Aliy Zirkle, the top two teams in this year’s Iditarod. Seavey’s team took just over 90 minutes longer than Zirkle’s to reach the checkpoint. But Jeff King’s team is still within striking distance after arriving third. Teams are resting for a mandatory eight hours. It’s an unusual year when the Iditarod comes down to the last long run from White Mountain.
The top teams in this year’s Iditarod likely won’t be decided until they cross under the burled arch in Nome. That’s because teams have spent the last quarter of the race, if not the last 900 miles leap frogging each other as they travel down the trail.
Mitch Seavey is back in the Iditarod lead. He passed Jeff King halfway through the run from Koyuk to Elim along the Bering Sea Coast. King surprised everyone by speeding through the Koyuk checkpoint at 8:20 this morning, stopping less than six minutes. That put him out front for most of the day. Mitch Seavey left the checkpoint three hours after King. Aliy Zirkle, Ray Redding Jr and Aaron Burmeister followed a few hours later. APRN trail reporter Emily Schwing is in Koyuk. She says King’s dogs looked good when they passed through the checkpoint.
Dog teams face the last 250 miles of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The trail runs along the windy coastline of the Bering Sea from Unalakleet to Nome. It’s getting close to the time when mushers will make some of their last moves. It’s only a matter of time before decisions on the trail turn into race results.
With a climb through the Alaska Range and a run down the Yukon River now behind them, Iditarod mushers have only to tackle the Bering Sea coast before they cross the finish line in Nome. But there’s still a third of the race to go. Overnight, the front-runners left Kaltag for Unalakleet. It’s the longest run of the race. KUAC’s Emily Schwing caught up before they set off.
Iditarod mushers running outside of this year’s top-20 are just as competitive as the front of the pack, but they have different reasons for travelling the trail.
Iditarod mushers start the race with up to 16 dogs. The can drop dogs along the trail, but they have to finish with six. Many mushers will drop dogs in Iditarod after completing the longest single run along the trail. It’s 80 miles from Ophir, but most teams remain large halfway through the race.
As Iditarod teams spread out on the trail, lead dogs will start to prove themselves. It’s up to mushers to make sure their leaders remain healthy at the front of the team. As KUAC’s Emily Schwing reports, that’s no small feat.
Three days into the Iditarod, the race is still anyone’s game. And the mushers are keeping it interesting this year. Martin Buser completed his 24 hour layover early in the race. Lance Mackey and Sonny Linder appear to be embracing the opposite strategy… making their way down the trail to the Iditarod Checkpoint, which is also the official half way marker in the race. But many of the veteran mushers decided to stick to a plan they know, resting in the popular 24 layover village of Takotna.
As dog teams get further down the trail, mushers are trying to decide where to take their 24-hour mandatory layover. Out of McGrath there are still roughly 700 miles to go before Nome. Some mushers make decisions based on timing and weather, while others have various ideas about how to use down time to their advantage.
This year’s Iditarod field includes 13 rookies. Many of them are very experienced, while just a few are new to the sport. At least two may have to race all the way to the finish for the Rookie of the Year award.
Mushers have known since the start that this year’s race is likely to be fast, but many seemed surprised that the blistering pace would pick up so early. Mushers typically plan to maintain strong teams and take their time along the first third of the trail.
There are currently four women running among the top-20 in this year’s Iditarod. This year’s race could be both extremely fast and extremely competitive. The women in the race aren’t holding back.
Bikers obliterated a previous course record in this year’s Iditarod Trail Invitational. The first riders pedaled across the finish line Wednesday morning to complete the 350 mile race between Knik and McGrath. Four of the race’s top five finishers this year are all cyclists from Alaska.
The first six cyclists in this year’s Iditarod Trail Invitational have checked in at the Winterlake Lodge along the Iditarod trail. It’s the third checkpoint in an ultra-distance human powered race that started north of Anchorage yesterday.
Noah Pereira from New York state won the Junior Iditarod yesterday. The 16-year-old is a dog handler for Iditarod champ Dallas Seavey. Coming in second four minutes behind was Conway Seavey.
Bells jingled as Dyan Bergen pulled her team across this year’s Yukon Quest finish line. “They’re really bear bells,” she said. “We always put bells to let the buffalo and moose and wolves know we’re coming. The one time I didn’t have the bells this year, we got chased by a wolf, so I put the bear bells back on.” Bergen, from Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories, was the 20th and final musher to arrive in Fairbanks.
Three of this year’s top four Yukon Quest teams will go on to race in this year’s Iditarod – Alaska’s “other” long distance sled dog race. All top four teams are planning long-term Yukon Quest careers for their kennels as well.
A light snow fell on a small crowd gathered on the Chena River in Fairbanks as Allen Moore’s eleven-dog team pulled the musher across the Yukon Quest finish line early this morning. The win is fitting after a narrow miss last year.