Friday’s Three to Read: catch up on Iditarod 44

Brent Sass hustled through the Ruby checkpoint early Friday morning. (Photo by Zach Hughes, KSKA)
Brent Sass hustled through the Ruby checkpoint early Friday morning. (Photo by Zach Hughes, KSKA)

The teams that have been lurking behind the front runners in the spotlight are about to come out of the woodwork. Leading teams are done with their 24-hour layovers (or soon will be) and head to the flat expanses of the Yukon River, where a new race opens up to the Bering Sea coast.

No one has opened up a commanding lead at this juncture. Brent Sass and Aliy Zikle are reaching Galena. Behind them, the pack is tight. In a span of just over three hours early Friday, Brent Sass was followed into Ruby by Dallas Seavey, Nicholas Petit, Aliy Zirkle, Wade Marrs, and Mitch Seavey. First into the checkpoint, Jeff King will leave this afternoon and be in the mix as the race speeds along the Yukon River. Here’s what you need to know to catch up on Iditarod 44.

Sass bolted out of the Ruby checkpoint early Friday. (Photo by Zach Hughes, KSKA)
Sass bolted out of the Ruby checkpoint early Friday. (Photo by Zach Hughes, KSKA)

1. Seavey and Sass play chess

Brent Sass has been in stealth mode for the 2016 Iditarod, resting only in a checkpoint for his 24-break in Ophir.He’s camped outside checkpoints during first half the of the race and kept a low profile. The former Yukon Quest champion’s race schedule is meeting up with Dallas Seavey near Ruby.

KNOM’s Emily Schwing interviewed Sass during his brief stop in the Ruby checkpoint, before moving up the trail to wait for Seavey’s next move and plot his own.

“…then he pulled his snow hook and took off under the dim northern lights, the distant, blue glow from his headlamp was visible from the checkpoint after he dropped onto the Yukon River.”

Frontrunners in the 2016 Iditarod are pushing past Ruby into the Yukon River community of Galena. (Graphic by Ben Matheson/Alaska Public Media)
Frontrunners in the 2016 Iditarod are pushing past Ruby into the Yukon River community of Galena. (Graphic by Ben Matheson/Alaska Public Media)

2. “Just a flesh wound”

Veteran Ryne Olson rested in Takotna in the 2016 Iditard. (Photo by Ben Matheson / Alaska Public Media.)
Veteran Ryne Olson, pictured here in Willow, rested in Takotna in the 2016 Iditard. (Photo by Ben Matheson / Alaska Public Media.)

After the top ten teams leave a checkpoint and the dusts settles, the mushers in the middle and back of the pack roll in. While these teams are not in the running for a new pickup truck in Nome, the racing is equally as wild.

Alaska Public Media’s Zach Hughes caught up with Ryne Olson, whose team ran into bison on the way into Nikolai.

“We were running through the [Farewell] Burn and we actually saw the bison. There’s no snow, so there’s no way to stop. My 15 dog team was just flying after it and I was trying to slow them down, and I’m assuming it happened then. But one of my dogs left, he got a stick to his privates, poor guy. But it was just a flesh wound, so they were able to suture it up at Nikolai, and he’s good to go,” said Olson.

3. Dropped dogs’ journey runs through correctional center

When a musher drops a dog in a checkpoint, it’s a long journey home to the kennel. From checkpoints, they’re flown by the Iditarod Air Force in to Anchorage. Before handlers pick them up, they stay at the Hiland Mountain Correction Center, where inmates care for them.

Caslon Hatch at KTUU has the video story of the human and canine journeys that intersect at the fringes of the Iditarod.

For Danielle Carrier, an inmate at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, these past few days have been like therapy.

“Being around dogs, I don’t know, it’s kind of like Chicken Soup for the Soul a little bit,” said Carrier. “That sounds cheesy but it’s true.”

For her, these dogs are more than just world class athletes. They also give her a chance to find love in a place where it can sometimes be sparse.

“I wish I could have one to bring back with me to my cell but they won’t let us do that right now,” said Carrier.”

You can find complete coverage of the 2016 Iditarod sled dog race at alaskapublic.org/Iditarod.