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Team Baker Iditarod Reports

Updates on Team Baker during the 2014-2016 Iditarod Sled Dog Race from Myron Angstman.

Myron's Corner 3-17-15 Who to Cheer For

Linda H.

There is nothing worse for a dog race fan than to have a long race decided early. The unusual experience of watching an event unfold from afar for eight or nine days, non-stop, and at a very slow pace creates a level of suspense or drama that is best served by a close finish, hopefully involving a team or two among the favorites of the fan doing the watching. There is not likely to be a close finish in this year’s Iditarod.  Dallas Seavey was described as the team to beat  a couple of days ago here, and that has now become ever more clear as he has seriously out gunned his closest competition in the last two days.  He set off from Koyuk this evening with more than an hour lead, and ample speed to stretch that lead.
It is a dog race, and there are numerous things that could yet go wrong, but it would take a major turn of events for Dallas to finish any place but first.  This comes from a guy who called last year’s race for Jeff King hours before he withdrew from the race. But King encountered weather that is not likely to repeat itself, in fact there is a forecast of nice weather all the way to Nome. Dallas is in line to win his third race and establish himself as the team to beat for years to come.
Some race fans will not be happy with that result.  There are many reasons to cheer for a certain team or teams, and I thought it would be helpful to explain how I pick a team to pull for in the Iditarod. Its fairly complicated.  First, I like to pull for the underdog,  and that usually means someone who has not won the race before. It is likely better for the race, and for the sport, to have a new face emerge as winner as often as possible. Second  I like to cheer for rural Alaskan teams, because of a common bond rural people share.  There are only a few rural teams, so that narrows things a bit. I also like to cheer for teams that have  a history with the Kuskokwim 300, our home town race and one which has been my favorite since I helped start it in 1980.  The rural racers tend to all have a K300 history, so that part is easy, but I also tend to favor those racers from outside rural Alaska who take part in the K300 and speak well of our race wherever they go. Finally I naturally favor our local racers, and that definition  includes anyone from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
That list resulted in a handful of favorites, none of which are going to win.  The one with the best chance, Aaron Burmeister, looks to fall just a bit short, likely in the top five for sure.  Another with a good chance, Pete Kaiser, is driving a nice bunch of dogs,  good enough to win the Kuskokwim 300 this year, but in his view not seasoned enough to compete at the end of the Iditarod just yet.  He is now battling to make the top ten. Other favorites like Richie Diehl and John Baker are a bit further back but still in line to get a pay check, while Katherine Keith and Chuck Schaeffer are in the middle of the pack.  One more personal favorite Paul Gebhardt, will not win, but has come on strong in the last two days, and is now gunning for a top ten finish as well.  I cheer for Paul because of his long history with the K300, and the fact that he is from Minnesota.  He always claims the K300 is his favorite race, and has now become a fishing buddy.
Distant readers may not be aware of the fact that most teams in the Iditarod enter without any realistic chance of winning, in fact most who start know they are not likely to finish in the money (Top 30). But still they take part, training all winter, feeding and equipping a team, paying a huge entry fee and considerable freight expenses to be on the trail on many days that can be described as uncomfortable  at best.  Throw in lack of sleep and physical exertion and a reader might start to question why folks take part.  To fully understand that you would have to experience the sight of Nome, Alaska, at night, 10 miles ahead as you top a rise and realize that after a thousand mile struggle across Alaska the end is actually in sight.

Myron's Corner 3-15-15 Change-up in the Top Three –The End is Near

Linda H.

I can now name my top three for the 2015 Iditarod, subject to change  as always.
Aaron Burmeister, Aliy Zirkle and Dallas Seavey appear to have the best positions right now, and of those three, Dallas appears to have an edge.  That edge is based on greater speed, but speed does not always  prevail in the Iditarod.   Aaron and Aliy have shown the ability to stay on the trail for long stretches, while Dallas has preferred shorter runs with more frequent stops.  That strategy tends to keep a team’s speed up, while the long run strategy slows a team down a bit. But when the end is near, most of the contending teams cut their rests and stay on the trail longer.  Sometimes that has the  effect of slowing the faster team dramatically, once they have become accustomed to the more frequent rests.  If that were to happen here, any of the top three could win.  If the speeds remain constant, Dallas could win handily, as he is traveling about a mile an hour faster than the others.
Jeff King and Mitch Seavey have faltered a bit,  and thus don’t make the cut for top three at this time.   Both had what seemed to be un-planned stops today in the long run from Kaltag to Unalakleet.  The gang of three coming up from behind, Jesse Royer,  Joar Ulsom and Pete Kaiser are well positioned to pass any of the top five who falter, and these two veterans appear to be well within reach at this time.
The cold weather is getting  a lot of attention. Many are suggesting it has been the coldest Iditarod ever.  If so, it has surpassed some awfully cold years. The pictures of racers show a lot of weariness, and not an abundance of smiles when teams reach a checkpoint.  Now the weather is warming up, but with high winds. It was gusting to 40 in Unalakleet today, and the next stretch of trail is very difficult to cover in high winds.  The race is far from over.
Shameless plugs for a dog race seem to appropriate for a dog race commentator, so here goes.  Aaron Burmeister was the successful bidder on an auction item at the Kuskokwim 300 race banquet this year, winning a big batch of home made burritos donated by Ben Kuntz and Sarah Angstman (Iditarod Musher Special- Shrink Wrapped of course). He packed them as his trail food, and soon after arriving in Unalakleet first today, he announced the burritos were great, and it was all he was eating thus far.  Next year the bid will start higher.

Myron's Corner 3-14-15 What Was I Thinking??? (Updated)

Linda H.

I  promised a top three by tonight,  but can’t deliver on my promise.  The  combination of  a variety of rest-run cycles, and some speed issues showing up make it impossible to say who the top three are right now (Sat eve).   Jeff King seems to have the edge overall,   although he currently is running in second place.  Aaron Burmeister has the lead but still must take an 8 hour layover  in Kaltag, where that lead will likely disappear.  King will likely stop 5-6 hour there and head for Unalakleet, probably a non-stop run.
King has taken three long runs since his 24 hour in Galena, and they have not required long stops when he rested at  Huslia and Koyukuk.   Others  have had less of a pattern, and are harder to predict as a result.   Aliy Zirkle still has to finish  her 8 hour, and she is currently in third.  She and Burmeister not only have to contend with finishing their 8 hour rest, they also have  the slowest average moving speed  among the contenders.  It is hard to make a team go faster than they are used to traveling  for any great period of time.  Thus, those two teams would have to stay on the trail longer than their competition to win.
Dallas  Seavey has been lurking  just behind the leaders, and traveling a bit faster when he moves.  He is defending champion and will be in this race until the finish.  He is a bit further back than he would like to be at this stage, but traveling faster as he is, he will likely be well in the mix on the coast.  Mitch Seavey has a little less speed and is further back,  but don’t count him out just yet.
[UPDATE]Dallas has turned it up a notch on his last run, and in so doing emerges as the team to beat. He averaged about 10 mph coming into Nulato. With that kind of speed still available at this stage of the race, the defending champion has to be favored to repeat.
A surprising name has moved into the discussion in the last two days.  Jessie Royer had a blazing fast run from Galena to Huslia  and is still moving well, running just ahead of Dallas Seavey right now.  She has the highest average moving speed of all the front runners, a full half mile an hour faster than Dallas, and a full  mile per hour faster than Aaron.   Two others just behind with high speeds are Pete Kaiser and Joar Ulsom.  These teams with high speed coming up from behind have excellent prospects for moving higher.
Among the other rural teams, John Baker has continued a slow but steady climb, now running in 13th place.  John has often moved up late in races, and especially in those races where weather is a factor.   His Kotzebue training comes in handy when it’s cold.  Another team moving up is Thomas Waerner,  from Norway.   The Norway teams that have done well in previous races have done so with slower moving teams that stay on the trail long hours. He seem to be following that trend.
The cold weather that has dominated the race seems to be waning which must be appealing to the racers.  One thing that racers rarely do is complain about the weather, because they have long ago realized it makes little sense to do so.  An occasional  glimpse into life on the trail at -40 tells us all we need to know. Several mushers have frostbite, and some have mentioned the tough time getting any rest during trail stops.  Huslia is known as a very cold village, and it surely didn’t disappoint this year. It is believed that the temps hit -50 in certain locations along the rivers. Dog racers are well familiar with the feeling of dropping off a bank onto a river and having the temp drop several degrees in about 10 feet.  When it is  40 below in the checkpoint, that sudden drop is alarming,  when you consider you are starting on a several hour river run. Now that I no longer face that situation as a mostly retired racer, I wonder “what was I thinking ?”

Myron's Corner 3-13-15 King has the Edge – For now…

Linda H.

Jeff King’s move through Ruby on his way to a 24 hour rest at Galena has put him in a good position in Huslia, the halfway point of the race.  King picked up time on all other teams at Ruby because they all stoppped, then he got to Galena first and watched a number of teams go by on their way to a 24 hour break in Huslia.  Those teams found some soft trail which slowed their progress.  Today when King made the run the trail was frozen and much faster. This allowed him to pickup more time on the first teams to Huslia.
This gives King an edge for now.  His main competition comes from Aaron Burmeister, the two Seavey teams and Aily Zirkle.  Teams further back like Pete Kaiser are moving fast, but will have to shave a bunch of time somewhere.  John Baker is making a steady move and can’t be overlooked.
I suggested I would have a top three tonight but that will have to wait another day.

Myron's Corner 3-12-15 A Look at the Rural Contingent

Linda H.

Its time to take a look at our rural racers, as the race approaches half way. I will take them mainly in the order they appear, starting with Aaron Burmeister. Rural you say? Of course he is. He spends a good share of his year in Nome and Kotzebue, he grew up in Nome, and he spends the rest of his time in Nenana, which is semi-rural.
Aaron is currently in front of the pack, and is making a strong move toward Huslia. I won’t call him the leader because I think Jeff King is right now, taking his 24 hour break in Galena. But Aaron is right up there, and has had good moving speeds throughout the race. He says things have not gone all that smoothly so far, yet there he is in front, so keep an eye on Aaron.
Next in line is Pete Kaiser, stopped in Galena apparently for his 24 hour. He will leave there well behind King, around 7 hours. That’s a lot of time to make up on a 4 time champion, but Pete had a real fast run into that checkpoint. Actually the fastest run into Galena was Paul Gebhardt and Pete was second fastest. I suspect part of that was a factor of the trail setting up after several teams went over it, and also the fact that those teams had a little extra rest from some of the teams that preceded them
Richie Diehl has quietly hung around the leaders and is about 3 hours behind Pete. He must still take both mandatory rests, and has been moving slower recently, but those rests could bring him back up a bit.
Katherine Keith is also in Galena, arriving five hours after Richie and moving a bit slower than him. She has taken her 8 hour break, and still must do her 24. She passed up her kennel partner John Baker who appears to be taking his 24 hour rest back in Ruby. John has had some good runs, and his history of moving up strongly in the latter part of the race might serve him well, especially if he has a hard fast trail out of Ruby from all the traffic ahead of him.
Our final rural team is Chuck Schaeffer who is on his way from Ruby to Galena having completed his 8 hour rest. Chuck is the lone rookie among the rural bunch, and he is the fourth ranked rookie right now.
Tomorrow night I will take a stab at naming the top three contenders, based not only on their position but also their speed and other secret factors.

Myron's Corner 3-11-15 GPS Tracker Withdrawls

Linda H.

Usually by this stage of the Iditarod some trends have developed  which would enable a seasoned analyst to  pick out some early leaders.  Not this year.  A jammed  pack of racers toward the front makes picking the leaders tough, and that is made worse by the fact that some faster moving teams are a bit back of the leaders by still well within range.
The Seaveys are  in front as of this writing, but neither has taken control of the race.  In fact the next racer in line Aaron Burmeister has a higher average traveling speed,  which means he has gotten to the same spot in the race as the Seaveys with more rest.  Several other teams  are showing  faster traveling speeds today,  among them are Jeff King, Thomas Waerner, Pete Kaiser, Dee Jonrowe, Nathan Schroeder and Ken Anderson.
Complicating any prognostication at this point is the staggered start and various mandatory rests which must be taken. Until those rests are completed, comparisons of location are deceptive.  For example Pete Kaiser started late in the field and has about a two hour handicap over early starters  which will be given back to him during his 24 hour layover.
Today the GPS tracker went on the blink for a couple of hours,  introducing  recent Iditarod fans to the situation faced   by fans in the early years of the race when reports were often  very old by the time they reached rural Alaska.  I used to call  Iditarod headquarters  for first hand updates, but they were sometimes outdated as well.  Later I learned to tell them I was from the press, so that I would get the best information possible.  I would say  “This is Randall Simpson from the New York Times”, and that would usually get me the supervisor.  Later on when the fax was introduced, I got on the every hour fax list from headquarters, and then all of the best race fans in Bethel would call me for an update.  Of course the tracker has changed all of that,  and  going two hours without an update is a weird form of torture for the hard core fan.

Myron's Corner 3-11-15The Sass Disqualification

Linda H.

The Brent Sass disqualification is major news and not just because it removes a serious contender from the race.  A larger issue is why Iditarod has such a rule in the first place.
Two way electronic communication is not allowed on the race.  The discussion concerns whether such communication gives an advantage to some racers who receive such information.  Not having raced in the cell phone era I can only speculate but I assume some small advantage can be gained when cell phone service is available.  That of course is only part of the time usually near villages.   A racer could learn what the competition is doing and also weather or trail information.
Reliable sources have told me that a significant number of racers used cellphones in recent years even though they were banned.  They did so without penalty apparently.  This year the race officials announced they would harshly enforce the rule and Sass is the first victim.  There are likely other devices on the trail but Sass used his openly as a music device forgetting that it was capable of texting with Wi-Fi in the checkpoint if such was available.  One of the problems with this rule is the issue of detection.  Cell phones could be buried deeply in a musher’s equipment and hard to detect.  I suspect some racers are reconsidering their use of cell phones today.
Iditarod should use this opportunity to revisit the rule.  Cell phones are everywhere and what is the harm in allowing racers to carry them?  Keeping them charged must be a problem as well as finding a signal but racers use other modern methods to do better in the race.  Improved sleds, clothing, dog gear, food,  GPS trackers,  all of these would have given pause to old time racers but each improvement was readily embraced by the racers.
No one likes to see a good racer sent home in mid race.  With a huge mob of supporters in the Fairbanks area one can only imagine the anguish Sass fans share today.  He recently raced in the Kuskokwim 300 and made lots of fans in the Bethel area as well.  Incidentally that race allows cell phones and no one has suggested it has impacted competition.
Meanwhile a closely stacked field is making its way down the Yukon River.  More on that aspect of the race later.

Myron’s Corner 3-10-15 – Buser Conserves

Linda H.

Yesterday marked the start of the 2015 Iditarod, this year from Fairbanks where cold and snow was a dramatic departure from the conditions that have plagued Alaska this winter.  In this second Fairbanks start, the teams will encounter a much flatter trail that follows a bunch of rivers before reaching Kaltag and the run to the coast.
I have been asked to provide analysis once again, free to the many readers who follow these pages. Some have said they would gladly pay two or three times as much for the enlightened commentary featured here.  For example,
last year I declared Jeff King the winner hours before he withdrew from the race near the Safety checkpoint.  Where else could a reader find analysis like that?
One reader did express her thoughts about the page at a recent book signing for the  recently released “Iditarod, The First Ten Years”    A nice lady from Holland looked at my name tag and said “Myron Angstman, you are famous in Holland”  Of course I asked her why, and she responded that there are many Iditarod fans who read my stuff in her homeland.
Incidentally,  a shameless plug for that book seems appropriate at this point.  Assembled by a group of volunteers from the early years of the race, the book captures the event in a thick coffee table book, packed with short stories and tons of artwork. Proceeds from the book go back to the racers with no payment to the contributors.  You can read about the book on the
facebook page by that name, where you can also find out how to order it.  A sample can be found on my webpage, linked below.
Now, on to analysis.  Well not really, because no analysis is possible at this stage of the race.  The first day is spent  trying  survive the spectacle of the start, with many teams passing,  lots of viewers along the trail, and excited dogs.  By Tuesday  early trends emerge, and usually a there are a few teams in positions that surprise us computer racers.
One early observation that is worth noting.  Martin Buser started toward the front of the pack with bib number four, and jumped out in front in the early going.  Before the race he announced he would not be the rabbit this year,
as he has been in recent years.  Tonight he pulled over for a rest, and others have jumped in front so maybe he means it.  Being the rabbit has not worked out for Martin, or for that matter most teams who have tried it over
the years. Early exertion when the dogs are excited often leaves often leads to a slower pace later on, and the later on involves hundreds of miles. That allows a  steadier paced team to catch and pass the fast starting team in most cases.
This year my reports will once again focus teams from rural Alaska. Bush Alaska is a huge chunk of country with a small population that is well connected despite the distances involved.  Kotzebue, Nome and Bethel and the smaller villages surrounding them compete against each other in sports and other activities, but when it comes to competing against folks from elsewhere,  there is a common bond.   You will detect a bias here for those teams for whom going to town means hopping a jet bound for Anchorage.
Decent racing weather is predicted  for the next few days after a ceremonial start in Anchorage that nearly got rained on. Those watching on TV or computer likely saw what looked like nice weather in Anchorage, but a few hours before the start it was pouring rain with low clouds and  wind.  The snow that was trucked in was mainly slush, but was just enough to get the teams out of town with their important cargo.  Each team carried a rider who paid for the thrill of riding for a few miles.  That program earns a nice sum of money for the race.
Tonight, we’ll look at some of the early movers in the race and try to make some sense of their strategy.

Team Baker is Off the Trail

Ashley Kelly

Katherine Keith finished today in 32nd place, a little more than an hour out of the money.  She was fifth ranking rookie.  She picked quite a year for her first Iditarod.

Long time race observers rate this year’s trail among the worst.  There are many years that have had issues, but this year there were  perhaps more than I have ever heard about.   Ice, dirt, tundra, wind and even a little cold weather thrown in.    The happy faces and easy going demeanor observed  in Anchorage and  Willow were gone,  far gone, by the time the teams reached  Nikolai.  There was a stretch of normal trail then before it turned into a mess again on the coast.  One thought comes back to me that has been repeated many times when Iditarod racers gather.  Sometimes on the trail I said to myself “ Do they really expect me to  go there?”   Others admit they said the same thing, more than once.  But that is part of the attraction. The comforts of home  just don’t excite  everyone. They need to get out and feel the wind in their face, and face  a challenge. 

The folks who made it have quite the story to tell, and I’m anxious for a chance to hear it from folks in the middle and back of the pack, folks  doing it for the first time.  Part of the enjoyment for fans like me is hearing how difficult it was,  and marveling how  they did it.

For all the folks who don’t understand the race, and and are critical of it, there are few who would  deny that there is no event quite like it.   It’s the Super Bowl of  Alaska, only bigger.

I have enjoyed once again adding my thoughts to dozens of voices who do daily commentary on the race.  I congratulate all of the racers and the folks who put on the race.  If the trails are good,  I hope to be doing this again next year.

John Finishes 19th

Ashley Kelly

John Baker  ended  his Iditarod in 19th place, and the pictures suggested was on the trail  for a few days.  The brutal winds of the past couple days took a toll on  most of the racers.   Some  were hard to recognize in their finish line photos.  I haven’t had a chance to  talk with him, but I suspect 19th is  little behind where he hoped to finish  at the start.

 Throughout  the race  Baker’s traveling speed was a notch  slow to contend for the top spot.  He has always had a bit slower pace than some, but the gap was more pronounced this year.   Perhaps the  hard fast trail had something to do with that.  Baker often shines best on softy trails with hard pulling.

 In addition to not  finishing near the top,  Baker lost his record for fastest Iditarod.  That was a record that was likely to fall, as will this year’s record now held by Dallas Seavey.

Katherine Keith  is at White Mountain in 30th place, the last paying position.  There are a number of teams in who will leave just ahead of her, so she has  some chance to gain a place or two.  She would be happy with 30th I’m sure.

 Tales of the tough trail are  now emerging.  Martin Buser’s  account of the last two days is brutal, as is Jeff King’s account of his problems around Safety.  Less well known racers likely have similar stories we haven’t heard.  It is clear that survival was  at least  a part of the equation during the worst of the wind.  The Iditarod has never cost anyone their life, but  a few  racers have wondered if their affairs were in order during  some bad storms.

 Tomorrow’s report will conclude this year’s  reports.

Late Night Drama

Ashley Kelly



The late night drama  Monday not only kept me and other fans up, it also prevented a morning report.  What a finish.  Things went south in a hurry  for  Jeff  King, who I  had named the winner about 9 pm.    By  11:00 he was  out of the race.  My report, which was compared to the Dewey beats Truman headline from 1948, was a little early but seemed safe at the time.  Someone asked for a retraction.  Of course not, this is meant to be one old guy’s thoughts and nothing more.   But  refunds will be paid, of course.  Anyone that can prove they bet on King after 9  based on my report will get their money back, simply by sending me the receipt.

It is obvious that many in Alaska wanted  Aliy Zirkle to pull it out, and thought she had after reaching safety first. Instead she settled for her third straight second place finish, and  an elite record held by only one other person.  Zirkle and Rick Swenson are the only racers ever to finish second in  the Iditarod when leading at Safety.  Of course, for Swenson it was the  1978 one second loss to Dick  Mackey that earned his spot on that list.

Dallas  Seavey earned his second win, and third in a row for his family.  Some call it a dynasty but it is not quite there yet, especially considering the circumstances of this win.    The big blow of 2014 determined the winner.  Dallas survived it, but could hardly claim he dominated the race.  King gets that honor.  And Zirkle is not far behind in that category, making up a bunch of time on  Seavey to lose by a couple of minutes.

John Baker spent the night at Elim with a bunch of other teams wary of the Golovin Bay winds.  He is now  in White Mountain, and will leave at midnight in 17thplace.  He is unlikely to move up. (there I  go again)  Katherine Keith spent the night at a shelter cabin 15 miles past Shaktoolik.  She made it to Koyuk around  6 pm in 26th place, and has  a good chance to hold her spot.  I suspect she will be delighted if she does.

The Kuskokwim trio left White  Mountain and are headed for Nome.  Mike Williams Jr was one of few teams traveling last night, and he made it  from Elim to White  Mountain in the teeth of the wind. He trained all  year on ice here in Bethel, which likely served him well in that run.

There will be one more report  tomorrow.  For more Iditarod news, and other assorted  stuff, check the monthly news  on  my website, angstmanlawoffice.com

Zirkle 1st Into Safety, King Trouble on the Trail, Swenson Calling the Shots in Downtown Nome

Ashley Kelly

Aily Zirkle  was the first to check in at Safety, as reports of 45 mile per hour winds  emerge.  Jeff King is parked  about 4 miles from   Safety, and there is no word what the issue might be.  I do know  that some dogs have an upper limit  on wind, and 45 might be past it.    Lots of  communication between serious race fans tonight.  Five time champion Rick Swenson was one who called.  He said  depending on how things shape up in the next couple hours, he might  have a drink in downtown Nome.

Final Report for the Night

Ashley Kelly

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.

**UPDATE BAD WEATHER NEAR SAFETY**

Ashley Kelly

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.

Record Breaking and Weather Related Drama Mid Pack

Ashley Kelly

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 tomorrow.  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 made  tomorrow morning to  check  on any teams not in checkpoints.  That doesn’t make the night any shorter  for the ones that are out there.

Finishing Positions Narrowed Down and Joe Redington Sr

Ashley Kelly

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.

Two Team Race

Ashley Kelly

This morning I suggested it might be a two team race by tonight, and  it looks like it is.  King and Zirkle left  Koyuk together  and no one gave chase until they were well down the trail.  Buser finally  followed, but he was three hours and 24 miles behind them and has been moving slower for some time.  Lindner  had a slow run across the bay, and he is still in   Koyuk, with little chance to catch either team.   The two Seaveys  have been moving fast, but apparently  figure they can’t keep it up without a decent rest.   Either Seavey could try to bolt through  Elim and cut the gap, but  that is looking like a long shot now.  Dallas  is now 26 miles behind King leaving  Koyuk.

If the two front runners  are the contenders, King would seem to have  the edge on speed.  He went out  one minute ahead of Zirkle  and that lead has now stretched to almost three miles.  He still has a long  way to go, but don’t bet against him at this point.  Look for a finish late Monday or early Tuesday in record time.

John Baker has moved up a bit.  He told Andy  Angstman at Unalakleet that the team is performing better recently.  He arrived in Shaktoolik in 15th place, but is now bumping  into teams  that have shown more speed   throughout the race so moving up will be difficult.  His average moving speed of 7.2 mph for the entire race  is a full  mile per hour slower than Pete  Kaiser who is also in Shaktoolik. Baker has   often beaten faster teams but it takes long tough runs to do so.  Katherine Keith left Kaltag in 29th place this evening.  The Iditarod pays  30 places.

Tomorrow morning the front runners will be resting in White  Mountain so I will diverge a bit with some stories about the  Father of the Iditarod, Joe Redington.  Feedback from readers suggests  that  there is plenty of analysis to be found elsewhere  but old  time dog race stories  are harder to find. I have a pretty good supply.

One final note, someone inquired about tracker fever, the  new disease mentioned this morning common among race fans.   It is clearly  a virus,  in fact it’s a computer virus.

Nome is a Long Ways Away

Ashley Kelly

The run across the ice to  Koyuk  shows  Aily Zirkle  still in the lead, but a closer look shows  Jeff King moving faster in second place.  Right now,  he seems to  have the edge, but   Nome is  a long ways away.  Martin Buser and Sonny  Lindner are about  10-12  miles behind, and their speed  is a  bit off the pace of the front two.  The fastest moving team in sight is Dallas Seavey, about 20 miles behind  Zirkle and still not out of it.  His mad dash of the last 24 hours has put him back in the discussion, but it remains to be seen how much  dash he has  left.

A speedy run from  Kaltag has moved  Pete Kaiser  up in the standings.   His  9 hour run put  him  in 15th place, just ahead of  John Baker who did the portage in 12 ½ hours.    Richie Diehl moved up to 18th place, passing  Mike Williams Jr who now sits in 23rd place, not yet in Unalakleet. Katherine Keith is in 29th, also on the portage.  Meanwhile at the back of the pack rookie Elliot Anderson  has not yet reached  Ruby.

Yesterday’s  discussion of early race  communication brought back memories of how fans used to follow the race.  In early races,  Iditarod headquarters had a phone bank of volunteers  who had a list  of info to dispense to callers. Of course that was a long distance call from rural  Alaska, so time was at a premium  and some volunteers  were slow on the draw.  One tactic that worked was to claim to be from the media, which  of course produced immediate results.  I often called in as Scott Simpson from the New York Times and  people really responded.   Occasionally  a call to a  checkpoint would find a capable observer to describe the scene.  In some villages I had reliable buddies who would  have all the important news when  I called.

Later,  the fax machine became important.  I convinced  headquarters that I needed regular faxes of the standings, so they put me on their every hour list.  Bethel folks would stop by at all hours for an up date, and when I went to gatherings I would bring along the most recent  report and  tack it on the wall.  The internet changed all of that, and for many years most people had instant access to the latest standings, which at the time seemed light years ahead of the early races.  But the advent of the tracker  has completely changed the life of  the fan.  Now instead of  not enough information, we have too much.  I know I am not the only  person who spends way too much time  receiving race info on the computer.  Tracker fever might be a new medical condition.

Watch  for major moves at Koyuk.  Teams with time to make up often try to  do it there.  By late tonight, we  might be able to reduce our  contender list to two.

Quite the Battle at a Record Pace

Ashley Kelly

This morning  it was suggested that by tonight  it would be possible to select three contenders, so here goes.   Earlier  I picked five  likely contenders  when the teams were around Ruby.  Two of those have faded.  Robert Sorlie has lost speed and dropped  back,  and is  likely out of contention.   Martin Buser is  still in second, but his traveling speed is such that he isn’t likely  to be able to keep up  with the three faster teams  now running near him.   The three remaining teams,  Aily Zirkle, Sonny Lindner  and  Jeff King should  battle it out for the win.  And it could be quite a battle.

Zirkle is in the lead.   She has had some great runs to get where she is  and will not surrender the lead easily.  She uses ski poles most of the time, and   has had excellent speed.   Lindner is second and has the slowest average speed of the three,  but has had a couple longer runs without a break.  That tactic  becomes significant  from now on, as breaks become less possible. King has taken more breaks, but is moving the fastest of the three most of the time. The fact that both  Lindner and King took their 24  hour break  at Ruby  is significant in figuring traveling speed.  The posted speed is based on the entire race, and it appears that both teams have had a better speed compared to  Zirkle since  Ruby, although those precise numbers  are not posted.

Zirkle left  Unalakleet after a four  hour break this evening.   Teams trying to win sometimes go direct to Koyuk  without a stop in Shaktoolik.  I don’t expect  Zirkle to do that yet.  Seasoned  race watchers  have suggested to me she likes to take a break every six hours or so, and likely will keep that up as  long as she is ahead.  Lindner would be more likely  to use that option to  erase  the  lead  Zirkle now has. King has also been breaking regularly, as he did last year after passing through Koyuk, in a move that enabled Mitch  Seavey to pass him and win.

I have a set of eyes on the ground in  Unalakleet,  Andy Angstman,  who is reporting what he sees.  He has contributed to the  naming of the three likely contenders, based on watching the teams arrive.  I also had  a chance to chat with five time champion Rick Swenson, who helped  Lindner prepare for the race. Swenson of course knows more about racing the Iditarod than anyone, and he also helped me  make my picks.  Swenson reported that despite his age (64) Lindner is a master at going without sleep.  There will likely be no sleep from  now until White Mountain, and that is often a factor in deciding who wins.

A team that was moving fast  in recent runs experienced  difficulty  just before reaching Unalakleet and scratched.  Nic Petit was running in third place at the time. He had trouble at the spot where Jeff King’s team faltered in another recent  Iditarod after a strong run.  John Baker left Kaltag tonight  in 18th place, and Katherine Keith arrived in Nulato this afternoon in 30th place.  She has  fallen well behind the top rookie Abbie West who left  Kaltag in 16th place.

If there are  three teams still in the running tomorrow evening it will be unusual.  Most often there are one or two teams  out of reach of their challengers  by the time the front of the race reaches Elim.  The race is on record pace, and there seems  little reason to expect that will change.  The record, of course, belongs  to John Baker. 

Ahead of Schedule and the FBI

Ashley Kelly

Aily Zirkle has  jumped into the lead of the race  by not stopping at Kaltag.  At this moment, she appears to be stopped about 30 miles up the trail  with Martin  Buser closing in from behind.    Buser’s travel times have been slower, and  he will have a hard time  keeping up with Zirkle in the days ahead.  He also faces strong  challenges from behind  with fast moving teams now resting in Kaltag.   The two fastest runs from Nulato to  Kaltag belonged to Nic Petit and Sonny Lindner who announced that this is his last race.  He probably made that decision  after bouncing off  a tree in Rainy Pass.

Earlier it was suggested  that by Sunday night the contenders could be narrowed to three.  Because the race is  significantly  ahead of schedule, that date can be moved up to Saturday night.  Tune in here tonight for the straight  scoop.

These twice daily reports might be  the only Iditarod news for a few readers, but obviously  the amount of Iditarod news available to fans is astounding.  At any  moment, a fan  can access the tracker  and learn the precise location of any team, and the speed they are moving. There are eyewitness accounts of the race posted  throughout the day, and video reports are common.  The contrast between the current coverage and early years in dramatic.  Radio and newspaper reports were notoriously  late reporting race status  well into the 1980’s.  In Bethel we would hear a radio report in the morning that often had locations of mushers reported the previous  afternoon,  and  because teams were not required to sign out of checkpoints,  the reports  often had some musher parked in a checkpoint when actually  he  was  50-75 miles down the trail.  Ham radio was the  official  communication network of the race, and  of course the lone operator  at each checkpoint had to  sleep once in a while.  I remember serving as race judge   in 1980 at Unalakleet, where I was stationed in a  room with the checker and the ham  operator.  The radio man lived on coffee, provided by the race, and peanut butter sandwiches the entire race.  We were a ways from the village store and  one time the radio operator  walked over to replenish  his groceries (bread, peanut butter). While he was gone an urgent request came over the  radio asking for the location  of a particular team which I knew was parked outside.  I knew there were fairly strict  Federal rules about who could operate a ham radio, but this was important info, so after a few unanswered calls I picked up the  microphone and answered the question.  There was dead silence on the  radio for  several moments.  Finally  someone asked me to confirm my call sign.  I responded that I didn’t have one.   More silence.  Finally  the operator returned  from the store and I found a reason to tour the checkpoint.  I can only imagine the chatter while I was gone.

When I returned I was told of the possible penalties for talking on ham radio without a license. It was suggested  that Federal prison was a real possibility.  I didn’t talk on the radio again, but I never went to prison. I guess at -20 with a stiff breeze, the FBI didn’t want to  travel to Unalakleet to arrest me.