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.