Last night I mentioned that the order of departure from Nikolai is an important factor in deciding who is a contender in the Iditarod. There are a bunch of teams out in a fairly short period of time, way more than normal, and that means it is too early to draw many conclusions. Aaron Burmeister left first, and what should we make of that? Well, Aaron had a good race last year, and has too much experience to run out of Nikolai if his team wasn't ready. It is also true that his team had a good run in the Kuskokwim 300 earlier this winter with Tony Browning driving. But there is one negative that must be considered. Distant fans can now watch the average traveling speed of each team, courtesy of the GPS mounted on the sled. This measures the average speed recorded by the sled whenever it has moved since leaving Willow. I have every reason to trust the accuracy of the moving average, and Burmeister is at 8.3 mph, slower than the three teams right behind him. Other factors figure in of course, but that differential must be overcome at some point. Teams rarely speed up after the first few days of a race. Some slow down however, and that is what will have to happen for Burmeister to hang on to his short lead.
How can a slower team be leading? Obviously he has taken less rest, but that can only work so long before the speed factor favors the faster team. The faster teams gets more rest, while the slower team and its driver get less rest. I have often stated over the years that in distance racing its not how fast a team goes when it is going fast, its how fast they move when they are going slow that determines which team will win. Some of the key speeds I am looking at are these: Zirkle 8.5, Mackey 8.9, Mitch Seavey 9.0, Gebhardt 8.3, Jonrowe 8.7, and Buser 8.9, and Royer 8.4. None of those teams are far from the top spot, and all could be a factor. Two fast teams are back a bit at this writing, Mike Williams Jr. at 8.6 and King at 8.9. One notable team moving very slow is defending champion Dallas Seavey, moving at 7.3 mph. On a dog trail the difference between Mitch Seavey at 9 and Dallas at 7.3 is dramatic. Think how fast a car going 90 passes you when you are driving 73 on a freeway. But as soon as I wrote this sentence, I noticed on the tracker that Dallas is moving fast, and is now traveling in tenth place. Go figure…
John Baker is also moving slower than he would like, at 7.7 mph. He is often slower at this stage and somehow catches up, but rarely has he had this many good teams in front of him at Nikolai. A few of the teams on the trail to Takotna will falter because of the rapid pace thus far. Most of these teams will take 24 hours there to rest up. Some snowy weather is forecasted, which could alter the speed of teams significantly.
Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checkinghttp://www.myronangstman.com/