2-8-2019 11:40 PM
Well my report for today may not be submitted till tomorrow at this rate, but the race clock doesn’t stop, and today neither did I. Night or day there is always something to see on the Trackers. For now the lead teams appear to be resting at Slaven’s. It looks like the front teams are starting to jockey around for position. I expect that they will be watching each other closely, with each wanting to make sure the others do not get out to far ahead. As each musher calculates the rest their team needs we will see different choices result in mushers trading places. Not just in the front runners, as we saw today with Allen taking the lead. You will also see it in the groups that follow. And there is still plenty of time for mushers to “make a move”; do a longer run or a dramatically different run pattern that catapults them ahead.
It is always hard to see teams scratch, but I read in “Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race” By Elizabeth Martin that historically a third of the mushers who start the Yukon Quest will not finish. This year there were none before Dawson, and that is not always the case. Not to be negative, just realistic, the trail ahead is challenging at best, and often harder than that. So join me in wishing mushers the best, supporting them and the race when they make the difficult decisions that need to be made, and thanking the veterinarians who are out there to support the athletes: canine and human.
Some interesting changes in weather out on the trail, I would have to say mushers are no longer complaining about the cold. I just checked the current conditions in Eagle Alaska, and the temp is 15 F. That’s -9 C for my Canadian friends. And winds at 15 mph. Looking at pictures of teams on the Quest Facebook page I can see it is snowing in Eagle. That is actually not as great as it might sound. OK yeah much more comfortable for mushers, but dogs prefer it a bit cooler for running. On the plus side dogs do rest better when it is warmer, so camping will be quite comfortable.
Checking on the next group to arrive in Eagle and the Trackers show that Rob Cooke is headed toward American Summit, with a train of mushers spread out over 22 miles, which is really not that far apart at this point in time. Rob is currently the fastest pure bred team in the race. He is being chased by a group that includes Isabelle, a rookie who brought her pure bred Siberian team over from France to compete. And the German rookie Hendrik , who has a team of Greenland Dogs and two Malamutes.
Back to the Summit. The weather on American Summit can really make or break that part of the trail (as I mentioned earlier) so I check the weather on the Summit, only to find it is warm, blowing and snowing as well. Blowing snow and wind can make the Summit more difficult, luckily Rob is a seasoned veteran. There are a number of rookies tackling that section of trail along with him, although it feels weird calling Jim a rookie considering his experience. And Andrew has significant experience in the Denali park area where weather can be pretty unforgiving as well. Hopefully all will be over and in Eagle for a nice breakfast.
As you may know Eagle is not accessible by road in the winter. So handlers get to skip this checkpoint, while local volunteers take care of cleaning up. But if you think that means handlers get a break, all I can say is you would not be more wrong! This is the single longest drive the handling crew makes, and they cannot even think of starting out on it until after their teams Dawson Dog camp is cleaned and inspected. And if you saw the pictures from Dawson this year you can see how much effort went into building comfortable camps for dogs and work areas for the handlers. Now all that is taken down and cleaned up, while caring for any dropped dogs that the handlers have with them on the truck. Handlers also need a bit of rest after working their butts off for 36 hours. But not for too long, since the drive ahead of them is epic. For fun I asked Google maps to calculate the route, you can see it here, a 19 hour and 50 minute drive! And that is without stops, assuming the road conditions are good, and nothing goes wrong. And who are we kidding; the odds are good something will go wrong. *Remember by 20 / 80 rule, well it applies to lots of things, road trips, relationships, marathons, mushing… so as you can see there is much to be done and not long to do it. Cheers to the handlers who are out on the road making their way to Circle City! And make sure to gas up in Fox before heading out the Steese Highway, there is not another gas station for 111 miles!