Note: We've posted a gallery of Sebastian's Iditarod photos here.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE
Wow - Nulato is the place to be right now.
Teams are piling in on top of each other. Ray Redington, Jake Berkowitz and Peter Kaiser had smoking runs into here. They picked up a bunch of teams. All three of them had a hard time stopping coming into the checkpoint, Ray running by Jake's team, then Jake pulling ahead of Ray again. Dogs are leaping in the air, screaming to go, frothing with desire. THIS is what racing is all about.
DeeDee’s team also looked nice and the checkpoint swelled from no teams to 4 teams in 5 minutes. More are piling in as we speak.
The 3 musketeers, as I would call Jake, Ray and Pete, are on a roll. They made up more than 1 hour on most of the other teams that came here earlier. With trail conditions being about the same for all teams, it clearly shows that these 3 have a bit more gas in the tank.
I just talked to Jake about his plan, and of course I cannot repeat it here…., but I can say that I LIKE it. Those guys ahead better start looking over their shoulder.
Jeff and Dallas both took a short rest here -- time will tell if they regret that or not. My take is neither will stop very long in Kaltag, while Aaron, Mitch and John Baker will most likely stay 4 to 5 hours.
Aliy has a fairly substantial lead now. Nothing insurmountable, but there is a bit of a gap now.
Temperatures and conditions are next to ideal, about 0F and a slight breeze, enough to cool the dogs down in the noon sun.
Berkowitz & Co. at Nulato:
LATE MORNING UPDATE:
Dallas is in Nulato. It surprised me that he decided to pull over and camp. It was not be a long campout, but he felt he needed to stop.
“Crap is freezing to the runners and booties are going to wear out on a 90 mile run, so I am giving them a quick break here," he said.
He was moving swiftly about his business and showing some frustration when the checkers were undecided of where to park him. He wanted to get things done, and done quicky.
Very understandable at this stage in the race. When Dalles passed me on the river, his team was focused and hardly noticed me and I could see he was riding his brake. That is pretty darn nice, considering the position he is in.
His team started to bark before they got parked. As soon as Dallas put the straw down, the dogs also went about the business of cleaning themselves of frozen bits of ice and snow. Dallas’s outfit runs like a well-oiled machine right now. He is taking a short break, but clearly being patient and waiting to do a move.
EARLY MORNING UPDATE
It is always exiting to get up first thing in the morning, with the wakup call "Sab, you have 20 minutes, than Aliy comes in." I have gotten used to the fact that this means typically 5 minutes at best, and sure enough, I had barely clambered outside when I saw her zoom around a 90-degree corning coming into the checkpoint, whith her trademark “holy cow “ expression. That is a very nice looking dog team she is driving.
Aliy wasted no time, her dogs did not even go in the dog lot. She turned them around on the road. Gave each a piece of fish, which they all gobbled up. She had her vet book signed, loaded a few more snacks and chuckled at the question if she wanted straw. She clearly does not intend to stop before Kaltag.
Then the second exciting thing of the morning: Looking at the new standings.
Where did Ramey Smyth come from? After running in the middle of the pack for much of the race, Ramey is once again storming to the front. Even more impressive, he passed some of the fastest moving teams of the race.
Long time traveling friends Hugh and Lance are both running farther back. I am sure they are enjoying each other's company, but most likely both wished their races would have turned out a bit different, as their pace has slowed and their dog numbers are reduced compared to the front runners.
Ray Redington, who I had hoped he would get a top 5 finish, has dropped out of the top 10. He has fast travel times, with under 6 hours to Ruby, but is not quite running aggressively enough to keep up with the very strong pack. If he wants to have a chance at the top 10, he now needs to run nonstop to Kaltag.
Jeff, who was very confident in Ruby that he still has a chance of winning the race, has cut his rest much shorter than the others in Galena, resting less than 3 hours. I fully expect him to now run through Nulato all the way to Kaltag. That would put him right in striking distance to the front. But running the entire 150 miles of Yukon River on less than 3 hours of rest means his speed might drop off a bit.
Dallas is now running solidly in 2nd place, passing his dad who rested around old Bishop Rock last night. Mitch’s team has slowed down quite a bit and Mitch was already talking about that before he left Ruby.
Sometimes I wonder how much a musher's mental state will actually show in the dogs' performance. Whereas Dallas was upbeat and chipper and happy about his run into Ruby, Mitch was worried and not happy about that run. Their run times were only 17 minutes apart. Mitch saw the glass half empty. Dallas half full. I really think the dogs feed off that energy. I hope Mitch will come out of his mental slump.
John Baker rested longer in Galena than I expected. I expected him to do the same as King and rest less than 3 hours, instead of the 4 he took. That is by no means a long rest, but in this tight race, half an hour or full hour counts a lot.
Dallas is around the corner, so enough strategy talk, time to snap a few more pics.