Yesterday’s report mentioned the importance of watching speeds into Takotna in handicapping the rest of the Iditarod. The teams streamed into that location in a bunch last night, and the information available tells us a lot about what to expect from here on out.
The first team coming in will not be the first to leave. Aliy Zirkle started earlier than some of the other front runners, so she and everyone else will watch as Mitch Seavey heads for Ophir early tomorrow. He will be free to leave a few minutes ahead of Zirkle, and then Dallas Seavey is scheduled to leave third. There are a bunch of other teams ready to follow that group a bit later, and that group includes John Baker.
The speeds coming into Takotna reveal that Dallas Seavey was noticeably faster than anyone else. He made up a bunch of time from Nikolai. Other speedy teams included Mitch Seavey, Jeff King, Ray Redington, Sonny Lindner, Gary Willomitzer, Michele Phillips, Pete Kaiser and Jake Berkowitz. Kaiser had the second fastest time from McGrath to Takotna. These speeds are important but do not tell the whole story. Baker is well known for traveling a bit slower than some of the other top teams. Zirkle also has that trait. In a race like the Iditarod, Baker’s method of neutralizing the speed of his opponents is to make longer runs, sometimes forcing the faster teams to run longer than planned and possibly slowing them down in the process. With so many speedy teams bunched at Takotna, that strategy will surely get a test in upcoming days.
No one’s strategy can cover all possible situations. Weather and trail conditions are always a factor, and they can foil either the front runners or those who hang back a bit. The front runners can burn up a lot of energy building a lead only to encounter conditions that slow them down or even force them to wait at some location. On the other hand, those a bit behind can encounter conditions that cut them off from the lead pack. Barring such problems, it appears the top six in today’s standings are in the best position to challenge for the top spot in this year’s race, (Zirkle, two Seaveys, Baker, Redington and King.) Teams behind that group would have to make a dramatic move somewhere to move into the top group. They are disadvantaged by the fact there are so many teams ahead of them, all with a lot of race experience and decent speed.
As this note is being written, Martin and Rohn Buser raced through Takotna, but don’t be confused by that information. They both still have to take their mandatory 24 hour break on up the trail, so their lead in the race is not really a lead. In fact, both are running quite a ways off the pace.
Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking http://www.myronangstman.com/