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Team Baker Iditarod Reports

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

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.