Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Crow Village Iditarod Awards

The Iditarod Trail Committee handed out 11 awards plus a Dodge pickup this year. This has inspired us to hand out a few awards of our own. The winners can collect their prizes in person at Crow Village Alaska during the subsistence fishing season this summer.

Second Best Blog

We had to take our blog out of the running to give everyone else a chance. This year's award goes to Jon Little. Jon has run the Iditarod 5 times and since 2004 he has done a terrific job following the race from the trail providing us insights, interviews, and pictures as a spokesperson for Cabellas. When Cabellas yanked the funding for his work this year, Jon continued bloggin' from his kennel in Kasilof not missing a beat.

Best Kennel Blog

This was a tossup between Gwen Holdmann of Ken Anderson's Windy Creek Kennel and Evy Gebhardt holding down the fort at Aspen Hollow Lodging while Paul worked his way up the trail. Both provided insights into their husband's strategy, stories about the trail and past races, and added information about the four legged athletes participating. Any time we are provided more information about the dogs, we are impressed. We gave the nod to Evy, since she answered our email.

Best Insider Video

The runaway winner was the footage of Jesse Royer as her team was charging directly into the wind heading towards the shelter cabin on the Norton Bay as Royer was energetically double poling the whole time. We think this footage played a key role in her lead dog Kuling winning the golden harness as it clearly demonstrated Kuling's enthusiasm being in solo lead under those conditions, and the amazement of the Insider team regarding the lead dog's capability. Did Jesse really double pole all the way from Shaktoolik to Koyuk?

Best Smile

Lance Mackey's lead dog Larry once again looked to be in his element as he flashed his turd-eating grin under the Burled Arch wearing the winning team's lead dog flower necklace for the third straight year. This time he shared the spotlight with the youngster Maple, but he seemed even more content knowing that the future of the Mackey team is in good hands.

Best Newcomer

When the stuff hit the fan on the coast, and all the teams were contemplating what to do, the first creature brave enough to step out on the Norton Sea was Lance Mackey's newest star Maple. Mackey sometimes says she is a 2 year old, and sometimes says she is a 3 year old, but if she hadn't led the way on the what Mackey described as the toughest run he has ever done, the race would have had a different winner.

Best Interview

Jim Keller's interview of Lance Mackey before the race wins this award. You can see the unshakable confidence of a man who knows he has a super team to take him on a historic journey.

Best Message Board

BSSD's message board has the most enthusiastic fans an event can ever hope for. When they mentioned our blog, that sealed the deal.

Best Webcam

BSSD picks up another award for their movable camera at the Unalakleet checkpoint. We wish the finishline camera could be this good.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hunt puts out the Iditarod Lantern

After years of working as an Iditarod Veterinarian during the race, Timothy Hunt became interested in actually running the race himself. Tim was born in Michigan and lived in Detroit where he attended Michigan State and received his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. In 1993 Tim moved to Marquette, part of the unique Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He wanted to live in Marquette because he felt “I wanted to live where I vacationed”. At the same time Tim moved he began mushing.

As a rookie, Tim expectations were not to win but to accomplish a goal he set out for himself. We are not sure, but it is hard to imagine that goal to be the “Red Lantern” award. Although the Red Lantern award is generally not a goal of a musher, it is never-the-less a very prestigious award. This is an award which exemplifies the spirit and history of dog mushing in Alaska.

During the early days of western contact in Alaska During the days of Alaska sled dog freighting and mail carrying, dog drivers relied on a series of roadhouses between their village destinations. Since these mushers ventured out in all types of weather they decided to use a "flight plan." Word was relay ed ahead that a musher and team were on the trail, and a kerosene lamp was lit and hung outside the roadhouse. It not only helped the dog driver find his destination at night, but more importantly, it signified that a team or teams were somewhere out on the trail. The lamp was not extinguished until the musher safely reached his destination.

Beginning in 1986, Chevron USA continued the tradition by hanging a "Red Lantern," as it is known today, on the burl arch in Nome. Each year the lantern is lit at the beginning of the race and hung on the finish line, not to be extinguished until the very last musher crosses the finish line. Once the musher crosses the line, (s)he then extinguishes the lantern, signifying the official end of the race. Thus, the last musher in a race is called the "Red Lantern" musher.

This year’s coveted Red Lantern goes to Timothy Hunt. He crossed under Nome’s famous burled arches at 4:06:22 am, 3/24/09. Tim finished in 52nd place (67 mushers began the race). After the ceremony under the Burled Arch concluded, the 2009 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ended with the traditional gesture of blowing out the Widow’s Lamp, signifying that all mushers and their teams were safely off the Iditarod Trail. After the breath taking winds that stalled and delayed the finish of this year’s race, I am sure Timothy’s family of wife Mary, stepson Tom and daughter in law Emily, were very happy to see him finish, Red Lantern and all.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Kuling wins Iditarod Harness

Kuling, the amazing lead dog for Fairbanks musher Jessie Royer was the winner of this years Lolley Medley Golden Harness award in the 2009 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race. Kuling is a 9 year old who has now completed 7 Iditarod races start to finish for Royer.

The Golden Harness Award was originally presented by the late Lolly Medley, one of two women to run the second Iditarod in 1974. The Wasilla musher was also a gifted harness maker, and she convinced the Iditarod Trail Committee in 1979 to begin awarding a Lolly Medley Golden Harness award to be presented to the most outstanding lead dog in the race as voted on by the mushers themselves. Kuling lead Royer's team to an 8th place finish, a feat she also accomplished in 2005 leading Royers team to an 8th place finish in that race as well. In both instances, it was the leg across the windswept Norton Bay between Shaktoolik and Koyuk where Kuling was at her best. This year, Royer completed the 58 mile leg into a fierce headwind with Kuling in solo lead and Royer double poling the whole way in 6 hours and 9 minutes, besting even Lance Mackey's time of more then 7 hours over the same leg. That performance helped propel Royer from 10th place into 4th place.

In a race where the outcome was defined by a strong wind on the coast, the top dog out of 1072 would be one that could handle those conditions. Perhaps the mushers voting on this award were impressed by the amazing Insider video showing Kuling happily loping in the lead just prior to the shelter cabin on the Norton Bay. Fittingly, Kuling gets her name from the Swedish word for strong wind.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Son of Sonny ROTY

Chad Lindner, the 30 year old son of veteran musher Sonny Lindner, earned ROTY honors finishing 30th in the 2009 Iditarod.  Chad reported that this was a one-time only gig for him. Chad was born in Fairbanks, but went outside to attend Reed College in Portland for political science degreee and to his father’s native state of Michigan for law school.  His senior thesis at Reed College was entitled, “The Success of the Cuban American National Foundation in Lobbying for U.S. Foreign Policy: Interest Group Model or Interest Group Anomaly?”  Perhaps during his 12 days, four hours and 22 minutes along the trail he had further time to analyze the question. 

Chad will soon be shopping at Bloomingdale's instead of Big Ray's and trading in his Carhartts for Brooks Brothers when he begins life as a big city lawyer in Boston. It his rumored that his area of legal specialty will be transportation. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Iditarod Sprint from Safety to Nome

The 22 mile race from Safety to Nome can be a relaxing leg of reflection for some, while others may choose a mind numbing, toe freezing sprint.  Passing a team on this leg can mean an extra 3k in the Iditarod paycheck. The Smyth brothers are famous for their fast times from Safety to Nome. Ramey has won "Fastest time Safety to Nome" award 6 times (95, 97, 01, 02, 03, 04) and his brother Cim once (96), although Cim has been the faster brother the last few years. The foot fashion of finishers is fun to observeanything from tennis shoes, duct taped mukluks to bunny boots may be spotted.  Given the various cluster of racers this  year, it is anticipated that there may be more than one foot race on Front Street in downtown Nome this year sprinting for those Burled Arches!

Below is a look at race times from Safety to Nome for some of the front runners over the past 3 years.

                     2008  2007  2006  avg

Lance Mackey         3:01  3:08  3:11  3:06

John Baker           2:40  2:44  2:58  2:47

Sebastian Schnuelle  2:48  2:33  2:43  2:41

Aaron Burmeister     3:15  2:54  3:40  3:16

Mitch Seavey         3:11  3:08  2:20  2:53

Dallas Seavey*             2:41  2:44  2:42

Cim Smyth            2:11  2:04  2:04  2:06

Jessie Royer         3:06  2:30  2:44  2:46

Ramey Smyth          3:04  2:30  3:04  2:52

*sample from his only 2 Iditarod runs to date: 2007 and 2005

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dallas and Ramey take on the wind

Mitch Seavey and Aaron Burmeister departed the Iditarod checkpoint of Shaktoolik shortly after noon on March 16 into a raging ground blizzard. The made progress for about 12 miles until they came up to a shelter near a place called Island Point. This is the last place to shelter themselves before the 45-mile shot across the Norton Bay into Koyuk - a spot made famous when Libby Riddles overnighted here in the 1985 race under similar conditions by zippering herself up into her sled bag. According to the GPS units those teams are carrying, Mitch and Aaron have not moved from that lonely outpost for over 20 hours. Meanwhile, several teams that left Shaktoolik turned back. Many more teams soon joined them as they were making their way up the trail from parts further back. Included in that group of teams joining the Shaktoolik camp were those of Ramey Smyth and Mitch Seavey's son, Dallas.

No doubt, Dallas has heard about the situation his dad was in and became concerned. While the stranded teams might be sheltered from the wind, food and water for men and dogs will become an issue. Additionally, dog teams reluctant to venture forward can benefit from following another team that can as has been demonstrated by several instances of teams traveling together in this race since the weather turned. Ramey and Dallas decided to depart Shaktoolik together while the other dozen or so teams stayed back. Certainly, Ramey and Dallas will be traveling together, but the question remains regarding what special dog is leading that effort. Earlier we highlighted one special dog named Babe that started the race on Ramey's team. That 11 year old leader has seen it all in 10 previous runnings of this race, so if she is still on the team, this could be that special dog that showed the way out of Shaktoolik. We won't know for sure until later.

Trouble at the back of the pack

Iditarod rookies Lou Packer, Blake Matray, and Kim Darst were the last teams to leave the Iditarod checkpoint halfway through this 2009 edition of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Conditions were not good as a ground blizzard swirled around them, and the little used trail to Shageluk was blown over. The 45 miles to Shageluk usually takes less then 12 hours to traverse, but the GPS units showed these mushers making very little progress, and when Packer had not reached Shageluk within 24 hours, his wife called the Iditarod Trail Committee voicing her concerns. AT 2 pm, race officials sent out an aircraft from the volunteer Iditarod Air Force to check on the 3. They found Packer hunkered down about halfway between the checkpoints, and he signaled for help. He had 2 deceased dogs. He and the remainder of his team are in the process of being flown out. Darst and Matray were found a bit further down the trail, but were not in as serious a condition. They are waiting for a snowmobile convoy sent out from Shageluk to escort them back over the trail that is currently non-existent. Both have decided to scratch.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Blizzard slows leaders down

Iditarod leader Lance Mackey looked cold as he pulled into the Koyuk checkpoint. The 42 mile trip from Shaktoolik over the Norton Bay was brutal. He described some of the challenges. "Going through the snow berms, their tired. This is the most tired they've been this whole trip." The weather has definitely taken a turn for the worse. Temperatures below zero and a head wind coming straight out of the north made for blizzard like conditions. It took Mackey 7 hours for the trip from Shaktoolik. He would rest his team for 9 hours at Koyuk.

Behind Mackey, Yukon Quest winner Sebastian Schnuelle was trying deperately to catch up. He arrived in Shaktoolik within close proximity of 5 other teams some 5 hours after Mackey. He spent a mere 19 minutes at that stop and pushed on. The others would rest their teams for a few hours hoping that conditions would improve. The drift dodging trip to Koyuk would take 8 hours, but he would once again make touch with Mackey who was still resting there. The veteran of many Iditarods and Yukon Quests said it was the toughest run he had ever made. A group of 6 mushers would leave Shaktoolik about 2 and a half hours after Schnuelle including Aaron Burmester, Mitch Seavey, Jeff King, John Baker, Hans Gatt and Hugh Neff. Watching them progress via the Iditarod Insider GPS tracking, fans could see them travel in packs and take several stops. John Baker was the only team to push on though so far covering the stretch in 8:23. Burmeister and Seavey seemed to have found a spot to rest on a peninsula just off the sound. The remaining 4 teams turned back and are once again resting at Shaktoolik.

Meanwhile Mackey has left Koyuk. The trail from that post takes a westerly direction so the brutal headwind has turned into a crosswind for him he is still dealing with a drifted over trail however. The trail also stays off the Norton Sound ice for the most part. He covered the 40 miles to Elim in a bit more then 5 hours.

Who's on Second?

As the 2009 Iditarod leaders head up the Bering Sea coast, Lance Mackey is maintaining the comfortable 5 hour lead he positioned himself into following his 24 hour layover, but the race for 2nd place is really heating up. The Shaktoolik checkpoint crew will be busier then a one-armed Iditarod pooper-scooper this morning as 5 teams within 2 miles of each other form a doggie traffic jam on the coastal trail leading into that former reindeer herding community of 230 people on the Norton Sound.

Jeff King, who came in second to Mackey in last years race, leads the charge, however he is followed closely by John Baker, Mitch Seavey, Aaron Burmeister, and Hugh Neff. Another mile back is Sebastian Schnuelle. Mackey spent only 37 minutes at Shaktoolik as he passed through the checkpoint earlier today as he continues his pattern of long runs and appears to be headed another 40 miles to Koyuk before he takes some substantial rest. Chances are good, that this pack will deploy the same strategy so as not to slip in the standings. Race rules require an 8 hour layover at White Mountain which is another 90 miles beyond Koyuk. 

APRN Status

UPDATE 3/16: APRN has begun posting again

APRN's focus with on-air broadcasts over radio has not changed, however they have currently discontinued their web coverage of it's broadcasts including the Iditarod race coverage. As a result, we have discontinued our practice of co-hosting select material an the APRN web site, however you will still find our continued coverage here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Unalakleet webcam returns

The Bering Strait School District students have done it again by putting up a steerable webcam at this link.

Top 10 Reasons to Catch Mackey

Now that the race leaders are starting to close the gap on Iditarod front runner Lance Mackey, it time to take a look at who might be capable of catching him. So without further adieu, from our home office in Crow Village Alaska, here is this year's top 10 list: Top 10 reasons to catch Lance Mackey

10) "I need to get the truck keys from dad."

22 year old Dallas Seavey probably has his own wheels now, or at least based on his incredible performance in this year's race takes his dog sled everywhere anyway, but wouldn't it be sweet to show the old man (Mitch Seavey is currently 2nd) who is the better musher?

9) "Size doesn't matter"

Paul Gebhardt's team is down to 10 dogs, which seems kind of short considering the 15 dog team of Mackey, but Gebhardt has historically been a late charger, and if it weren't for some unfortunate breaks would have won this race before. The 53 year old is in the best shape of his life and will be helping his small team in the hills to the coast and the hills down the final stretch.

8) "I need a new pair of fur lined sneakers"

Cim Smyth along with his brother Ramey Smyth impress us with their blazing finishes year in and year out. Cim has been known to ditch the snow packs for a pear of sneakers so he can sprint along with his dog team to the finish, so don't count him out if he is within striking distance at the end.

7) "There is no stinking road to distract me."

Finishing second in the 2009 1000 mile Yukon Quest due to a two hour penalty handed to him for taking a road for 5 miles instead of the trail, Hugh Neff has run a solid race from the start.

6) "I'm running low on smokes"

Every time we see Aaron Burmeister second guessing the strategy of front runner Mackey, he is taking a drag off his Marlboro. The longer Mackey stays in front, the fewer smokes Burmeister will have left.

5) "He'll be toast on the coast"

Kotzebue Alaska musher John Baker lives and trains on the Bering Sea coast where the lead pack is headed to now. His team will be most comfortable running on trail and conditions they are used to.

4) "I did a Quest"

2009 Yukon Quest winner Sebastian Schnuelle would like to repeat the Iditaquest feat Mackey has performed over the past 2 years winning both the Quest and the Iditarod in the same seasons. He also has an appointment at the Nome Hair Salon he doesn't want to miss. Inexplicably, after checking out of Kaltag, Schnuelle appears to be headed back down the river according to the GPS tracking device.

3) "I owe him one"

Jeff King lost his bid to winn the Iditarod last year when Mackey snuck out of the checkpoint while King was napping. King may leave half of his 25 foot sled at the checkpoint this year to trick Mackey into thinking he is still there.

2) "Life is more then a Quest"

Hans Gatt who has won the Yukon Quest 3 times (only surpassed by Mackey's 4 victories) scratched 450 miles into this year's Quest to better position himself to win the Iditarod. Gatt has raced the Iditarod 9 times with his best finish being the 6th place he recieved in last year's race.

1) "I've caught him before"

Mitch Seavey cashed in $100,000 in the winner-take-all All Alaska Speepstakes last year by catching the hard charging mackey in the latter stages of the 408 mile race. Seavey was in 4th place at the Kaltag checkpoint when he won the Iditarod in 2004, so coming from behind is nothing new to him.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Crossing over into the Lance Mackey Zone

You unlock this door with the key to his imagination. Beyond it is another dimension - a dimension of barking, a dimension of snow, a dimension of Gee and Haw, and thirteen hour runs. You're moving into a vast northern land of aurora and substance, of things, ideas, and a 16 dog team with super canine powers. You've just crossed over into the Lance Mackey Zone.

Defending 2-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey hinted beforehand that he had a surprise in store for the 2009 edition of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. We've become used to his incredible confidence in his chances despite long odds, yet his confidence this year seemed high even by that standard. We were able to gage the strength of his team in the past by watching him race and win the 1000 mile Yukon Quest race beforehand, which he admitted was a key tool in the training of his team, but there was to be no Quest for his team this year. Instead, there was some top secret regimen going on from his Fox Alaska kennel that even his mushing neighbors couldn't decipher.

Early on, Mackey held his cards close to the vest, as if to not clue us in on the rarified air his super canine athletes must have been breathing. His run/rest schedule was similar to the other teams with the exception of 1 or 2 long runs enabling him to move toward the front from his late starting position. he took his required 24 hour layover in Takotna along with most of the other top teams, yet he was still speaking with a level of confidence that was high even for him. While other mushers spoke of trail concerns and sticking to conventional run/rest schedules, that didn't seem to be a factor for him as his conversation revolved around the incredible performance of his team so far, yet the best was yet to come. Coming off the 24, Mackey reeled off a twelve and a half hour run into Iditarod, gave his team a six and a half hour rest, then worked in another 13 hour run into Anvik where he would declare his eight hour layover. In a day and a half of racing he had put five hours on his closest competitors who were still using six to seven hour runs between rests. You might say, he has entered into another dimension - the Lance Mackey Zone.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Race isn't Over Yet, is it?

In the old inter-office, inter-family, or inter-village pool, it was difficult to place your money on Lance Mackey this year. You almost want there to be a competitive race. The list of mushers competing was simply stuffed with the best mushing pedigrees around. Lance was the odds on favorite before the start of the 2009 Iditarod and yet there seem to be something in the air that said maybe this race’s outcome was not going to be as easy to predict as people thought.

There was the weather factor. Tons of snow this year and all the people in the know, and some (myself included) in the not-so-know, thought this snow factor was going to lead to some very different times and leaders. Also, Mackey has a different status this year. He is no longer the underdog that we all like to root for. His face is on 50% of the mushing commercials; his fancy wolf ruffed blue parka is now heavily clad with corporate sponsored patches; and he has received countless accolades regarding his phenomenal athletic achievements. However the charismatic, cancer surviving, digit-challenged (missing one finger), joking, fan adored musher was extremely difficult not to put money on.

We weren’t sure what was going to happen this year with Lance. He was training with a different strategy. Was he trying two shorter quicker training runs or was he just training at times when none of his mushing competitive neighbors could spot him? Did his training of the Bethel Native, Harry, T. Alexie, distract from his focus? Would not running the Yukon Quest effect his peak performance routine? When asked about his race preparatory activities, Lance was cagey and eluded to having a few tricks up his sleeve this year, of which he was not willing to share. But in the end this much enamored fan had to go with her heart and with her head and place her wages on Lance to again be victorious.

Having made the commitment to Mackey, I have been closely monitoring times of all mushers throughout the first half of the race. Switching between the GPS monitoring, the leaderboard and my calculator, trying to figure out who was running the fastest and who was truly ahead. Again listening to the many pundits analyzing the trail conditions and weather factors, which were non-factors, I was as confused as I was before the start of the race.

And then the 24 hour layover took place.

Now the race has all of a sudden become crystal clear. Lance took off after his layover as if the first half of the race was just a tease for the “Lance Mackey...A Musher with Mystical Ability” show. With a time between Ophir and Iditarod breaking the ten hour mark, and his dogs showing no inkling of wear through Shageluk, all our pre-race jitters of Lance’s performance have been settled. He is shown on an Insider video looking back to see who might be following him and he most certainly didn't see anybody. It is now his race to lose. And unless there is another dog team and musher out there that has drank from the same “magical, miraculous mushing” Kool-Aid, the rest of the race will be spent analyzing the leaderboard and GPS positions of the other teams trying to figure out who will place second.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bjørnar Andersen has scratched at Takotna

Considered by many to be one of the favorites in the 2009 Iditarod, Bjørnar Andersen from Team Norway has scratched from the Iditarod race. The musher who calls Elverum Norway home had a mishap after the Rohn checkpoint where the sled tipped on it's side and dragged him over an icy surface for a considerable distance. After righting the sled he toughed it out for another 70 miles to the Takotna checkpoint, where he hoped some rest might help him out. His condition did not improve over the 24 hours in Takotna and the medical personnel there became concerned given he had been vomiting and had blood in his urine. The decision was made to withdraw and he was flown to Anchorage for further treatment.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Burmeister Living His Iditarod Dream

An early memory for Nome’s native son Aaron Burmeister was riding in the dogsled with his father under the famed burled arch at the finish of the Iditarod. That short trip proved to be a powerful inspiration for the son of an Iditarod racer, and he promised himself that some day he would cross under the arch with his own team and might just but win it. The first chapter in this dream happened his senior year in high school in 1994. He finished 37th in his rookie campaign of the Iditraod, and he dreamed of doing better. But he had to put that dream on hold when he promised his dad, Richard Burmeister, that he would go to college and earn a degree before seriously pursuing his mushing career. Aaron sold his dog team and put his mushing career on hold for a couple years to honor the commitment he made to his hero.

Aaron began attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks in pursuit of a teaching degree. It was tough to let the memory of the sled trip under the Burled Arch Iditarod finish line go, and before his schooling was finished, he was once again building up a dog team and entering the Iditarod. With degree in hand, he returned to mushing with a vengeance, entering 9 more Iditarods and finishing as high as 13th in both  2004 and 2007. He has said that after the 2009 race he is going to give it another break to work with the ITC board to return the purse money where it should be and he has placed his dog team up for a sale to commence at the conclusion of this year's race.

With a race filled with a field of strong contenders, Burmeister seemed to take off with a purpose challenging the leaders from the beginning. Contrary to the pre-race predictions from many of the race's pundits, he is now solidly in the lead as he takes his required 24 hour layover at the Takotna checkpoint 419 miles into the 1100 mile race. Most of the leading teams including many of those who are supposed to beat him are taking their required layovers at Takotna as well possibly admiring the quality of his very capable team. In a couple days he may find himself under the burled arch again. We know that Nome will be out to welcome their son home and we can only wonder what kind of inspiration he will get this time when crossing under the arch.

Iditarod Leader Board Estimate

As many of the Iditarod race leaders have apparently chosen Takotna or McGrath to take their 24 hour layovers, we can make some estimates regarding what times the teams will be departing Takotna. As you may know, start differential is tacked on to each mushers 24 hour layover. It should be noted that Martin Buser elected to push on out of Takotna to take his 24 later on down the trail, however he will have considerably less then a 24 hour lead on those listed above after they get off their 24. The question remains regarding whether the teams at the front of the pack will be able to keep the pace their drivers have asked out of them -- especially if they have been skimping on some rest, however once the 24s have been completed, it is easier to gauge where each teams stands overall.

Busted sleds: Busted GPS

UPDATE: The GPS Tracking System is working again

As reports come in from the checkpoints, and a fresh batch of Iditarod Insider video are loaded, it has become apparent the Iditarod trail has taken a heavy toll on the sleds this year. Sections causing problems include several areas between Finger Lake and Rainy Pass Lodge including the "Happy River Steps", and the infamous Dalzell Gorge which is a steep down grade section that drops down to the Tatina river a few miles prior to the Rohn checkpoint. Appropriately, someone has placed a warning sign at the top of this section that is pretty direct and to the point. It simple reads "Watch Your Ass".

Rick Swenson's sled already had damage to his handlebar when he entered the Happy Steps giving him difficulties negotiating that section. He can be seen dumping his sled on it's side in the streaming Iditarod Insider video. Dee Dee Jonrowe arrived at the Rainy Pass checkpoint with a broken stanchion on her sled. She considered herself lucky given the incident happened in the same spot where she broke her hand last year forcing her to withdraw. That section of trail caused problems for rookie Nancy Yoshida, who racked her sled up on the Happy Steps rendering her sled inoperable. Several teams were held up to help her and she was eventually brought a new sled so she could make her way into Rainy Pass where she would ultimately withdraw. In another video, Paul Gebhardt and Mitch Seavey can be seen talking about their troubles on the trail in at the Nikolai checkpoint in another video. Seavey avoided damage to his sled in a wipe out, but Gebhardt hit a stump bending his stanchion which knocked his runner out of line requiring extra effort just to keep the sled tracking straight. According to Gebhardt's website, his wife Evy reports that he'll have to continue on in that method for another 70 miles to the Takotna checkpoint where he has another sled waiting.

Started as an experiment with a handful of teams last year, and now mandatory for all teams this year is the GPS tracking system that provides viewers with accurate positioning and weather data for the teams along the trail. This subscription service provided from Iditarod Insider has proven to be very addictive to fans like this editor who have an insatiable craving for copious amounts of race data. There have been some accuracy issues reported with the system, and Tuesday evening, an upgrade was scheduled. As of Wednesday morning, the GPS tracking application has been unresponsive, and as a result many fans are now having to cope with their addiction as best they can. The issue can be tracked back to the Ionearth server maintained by the folks who supply the service to the Iditarod. There is no update available yet from the Iditarod Insider message board regarding when the problem will be fixed.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Iditarod Leaders Depart Nikolai

Sebastian Schnuelle, Hugh Neff, and Aaron Burmeister were the first Iditarod mushers to arrive at the Nikolai checkpoint, and now they are the first to depart with Neff and Burmeister departing at the same time, and Schnuelle departing 6 minutes later. Schnuelle and Neff are familiar with each other having finished first and second in the 1000 mile Yukon Quest a few weeks ago, and Neff and Burmeister seem to be getting acquainted having started this Iditarod two minutes apart from each other and passing each other back and forth several time over the 240 miles completed so far on the trail. All of the first 20 teams to arrive in Nikolai elected to spend some rest time at the checkpoint, and included in that group are strong contenders like Paul Gebhardt, Lance Mackey, Jeff King, Martin Buser, and Mitch Seavey. Chances are good that there are a few more teams resting at a favorite fish camp 15 mile prior to Nikolai often used to avoid the crowded conditions at Nikolai.

Further back, it is likely some teams have chosen to take their one mandatory 24 layover, and this tends to cause us some confusion regarding where they really stand in this race. Matt Hayashida in particular after running surprisingly well with the leaders early on has been resting at Rohn for 14 hours, and could leapfrog back to the front of the pack if he completes his 24 there. Teams will typically take their 24 any where between Rohn and Iditarod and perhaps even further down the trail and this feature of the race creates quite the guessing game for the fans. Additionally, trail conditions can change considerably within a 24 hour period making the time required to traverse the same distance markedly slower or faster then those who traveled that same section earlier. Needless to say, picking the correct spot to take the layover can be a significant deciding factor in the outcome of the race.

One team to watch is that of Melissa Owens who is currently taking a break in Nikolai parked not far from some of the legends listed above. This is the second Iditarod for the 19 year old calls Nome her home and reached the finish line in her home town last year in 30th place. Her father raced in the '87 and '90 Iditarods finishing as high as 23rd, and she might just beat that mark if she continues on her current pace.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Mackey first into Rainy Pass

Two time defending Iditarod champion Lance Mackey passed 45 teams who started before him to show up at the Rainy Pass checkpoint first in this 2009 edition of the Iditarod sled dog race. Rainy Pass is a key checkpoint 136 miles into the 1100 mile race. The checkpoint is at Rainy Pass Lodge on Puntilla Lake at the foot of the 3000 foot Rainy Pass traverse over the Alaska range. into the single cabin checkpoint of Rohn. As of this writing, 8 other teams had checked into Rainy but none have departed yet, likely taking the warm afternoon to rest before the push over the top.

Mushers have been talking about the deep snow conditions over Rainey Pass and the difficulty it may cause for several weeks now. The trail breakers were able to break a trail through snow up to 8 feet deep in some places with their high powered snowmobiles, however, it remains to be seen how well the trail holds up once dog teams start passing, and it could be that teams farther back in the pack find more difficulty on this section because of that. Colder temperatures over the pass will help. The temperature at Puntilla Lake in the mid day sun at 3:30 in the afternoon Monday was 25, but we wont know the temperature over the pass until the first teams traverse it with the GPS units each team is carrying this year. The GPS units provide us with a temperature indication in addition to position and speed indications, and that data is available with subscription to Iditarod Insider.

Arriving 2nd into Rainy was Bjornar Andersen from Team Norway. It has frequently been the strategy of Team Norway to push the pace early and according to some sources, the Norwegian dogs have had plenty of training in deep snow conditions this winter. Arriving in 3rd place was Ramey Smyth, who coincidently finished last year's Iditarod in 3rd place. Ramey's team features a very seasoned 11 year old leader named Babe, who won the Lolley Medley Golden Harness award as top dog in the 2008 Iditarod. Former Yukon Quest winners Aliy Zirkle and Hans Gatt rounded out the top 5.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Amazing Ceremonial Start

The ceremonial start to the Iditarod 2000 Dog Race, went off without a hitch on March 7, 2009. As each dog team entered the starting chute, multi groups of handlers poised the over yearning to run teams of dogs, hoping the dogs looked pretty and were stumble free on their jaunt through downtown Anchorage. The weather added joy to each of the musher’s facial expressions, while statements were made in reference to the 2008 start and the horrible melting temperatures. The weather predictions include some tumultuous looking lows coming though, but no real melting temperatures.

Part of the colorful parade included many of the mushers using old time freight sleds which were hand made of birch trees with naturally curved trunks that grow on the side of steep hills along the rivers. The variety of sleds included a Gee Pole sled driven by Jeff King out of the chute. This funny looking sled places the musher between the dogs and the freight sled on a pair of skies and a six foot pole. The pole is anchored much like an oar of a boat and is used to dig into the snow on the side of the musher enabling the musher to steer. These types of contraptions were still used in Alaska when King first moved here. He used this unique sled to haul freight across glaciers in Denali for climbers. In the case of King we can not call it a Gee Pole sled, since Jeff is left handed he has naturally a Haw Pole sled.

Jim Lanier looked a youthful 68 years old as the oldest musher this year to be signed up to compete. He is a veteran musher best known for his all white dog teams. The observant spectator could see that this was not a camping trip for Jim but he eyed, and ruffled his ivory flock of mutts with a very competitive edge. Sebastian Schnuelle was met with chuckles as he approached his sled with a play stuffed wolf hat sitting about eight inches higher than your typical hat on his head. One would never know by looking at his relaxed and mellow attitude that he had just 10 days previously won the other 1000 mile race in Alaska, the Yukon Quest.

Many mushing dynasties are involved with the race this year. The Linders, Reddingtons, Symths, Mackeys and the Seaveys were representing this year. The Seavey trio of father Mitch, son Dallas, and daughter-in-law Jen are hoping for at least two of the three make it into the top twenty. Dallas is no longer running the “puppy” team but running his own dogs out of his own kennel. Cim Symth has won two mid-distance races this year, the Copper Basin 300 and the Tunistnena 200 however, his brother Ramey has out performed him consistently in the Iditarod.

Finally the crowd, which was already on their feet, stood on the toes and cheered loudly for the pink furry Lady and the back to back champion of the last two Iditarods. DeeDee was busy doing a cheerful Queen wave to both sides of the snow burned lined avenue. Her fans roared so loudly that the announcer needed to pause his fact filled monolog until the bright pink bootied dogs progressed a nice distance away from his lofty perch. Lance who is no longer that poor musher who struggles to get enough dog booties (little alone matching ones) passed by with his bright blue sponsored-filled parka sporting the largest wolf ruff of the day. There appeared to be an eagerness in the crowd to get a long lasting peek at this mythical ironman. The energy of the crowd could be explained in that everyone had a feeling that they were witnessing and being part of an historical event. The buzzing of the crowd’s electricity and Lance’s apparent nervousness was the highlight of this unique and crowd pleasing event.

While listening to the interviews with each musher before the race is an important part of the ceremonial start; so much of what a musher states pre-race, is about psyching out the other mushers and trying to psych themselves up. It isn't until the race truly starts and the talking ends that we will know how the race unfolds. This year the Iditarod is packed with a list of experienced potentially victorious mushers. t will be fascinating to see if any of the pre-race predictions will come to fruition.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Some thoughts from the River

There are several factors which contribute to the outcome of the Iditarod. Weather always pays a huge part in any dog race. This year’s Iditarod will prove this theory. Mushers live in several different climate systems throughout the state (country, nation) hence, they train in a variety of conditions. Of course it is helpful when the conditions the dogs train in, match the weather conditions of the race itself. Dog size is also a factor closely tied into the weather. Dog size whether large or small, goes through trends depending on the musher‘s philosophy about how to get to the finish line in the fastest amount of time. Bigger, slower dogs i.e., Sebastian’s, are running around on their natural set of snow shoes. These dogs have huge paws, and thick coats. This heavy type of dog performs great in heavy snow, but not so super in warm weather. Smaller dogs who were first bred for sprint racing ( 3 days of 20 mile races), have, for the last decade and a half, been bred into many musher lines. King's dogs are this type, very skinny and well muscled. King’s dogs respond to verbal commands better than any other team. His philosophy includes letting the puppies train with the team unharnessed so they are familiar with all verbal commands from a young age. This is a part of the training regiment that Jeff focuses on.

It is used to be a rule of thumb that these “skinny” dogs needed a six hour rest for every six hours of running. They needed frequent rests but they were faster than the big dogs, and handled the wind and icy conditions better. Then Lance came along and blew the theory of small dogs needing to run on the six-six schedule. Lance runs with medium sized dogs and with these dogs, he runs longer amounts of time, and cuts his rests. It was so different from the old way, that people are still shaking their heads about this approach.

Dogs only sweat from their paws and their mouth. It is important for them to be able to dip (put their mouth down when they are running and grab snow) throughout their runs to be able to stay hydrated. During the Kuskokwim 300 this year, some of the thicker pelted dogs were unable to dip enough snow and were getting dehydrated. DeeDee and Dave DeCaro (Jeff King’s second team) were extremely concerned over this issue. The temperature was OK during the run to Aniak, it was just that there was a crust of ice on top of the snow. This crust prevented the dog during a run to be able to quickly dip on the move and get a mouthful of snow.
So with style of dog training, snow conditions, weather temperature, ice, dogs size and pelt thickness, it is very difficult to foresee how a team will perform. Weather does play an important role, so I will update you on the "interior weather" and let you all know if things change. Of course the coastal conditions include wind, glare ice, white outs, etc.

We have had the snowiest winter I have experienced in my twenty years of living here in the interior at Crow Village. Normally during the winter, we get snow and a few melts which take away the depth of the snow pack. However this year we only had one big melt (right before the K300). There also has been tons of wind throughout the winter, so it has been difficult to keep even the well traveled trails open. Lately, it snows at night (four inches) and slows down during the morning. The sun remains hidden through the rest of the day with overcast conditions. The last couple of days the weather crept above 32 a few times and we got a bit of rain. Therefore, presently a crust of ice (1/2 inch thick) is sitting on top of tons of snow. The weather looks like the future will be a continuous pattern of lows coming through (with low is snow). The next front being a Siberian low (cold) followed by a Japanese low (warm) how long it takes these lows to pass through the interior is anyone’s guess. But we should not have any lasting cold snaps (Highs) for a week at least. That means the first 2/3s of the race will be run with tons of deep drifty spongy snow, e.g., 100 inches on the Yukon, probably around 10-30 degrees, and overall slow trail conditions. Of course this could all change in a snap. Like anything in Alaska, nothing happens till it happens.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Iditarod Babe defies age

When this Babe won her sport's highest honor at last year's Iditarod dog sled race, many thought it must be time for her to hang up the harness. After all, she was well past her prime, far more advanced in age then all her fellow competitors, and scheduled to give birth in the spring. However, as she has done almost her entire life, this Babe will line up at the Iditarod starting line for one more kick at the can on Sunday March 8th. Babe is the 11 year old lead dog for Iditarod racer Ramey Smyth. For those of you without a calculator, that equates to 77 in dog years.

Ramey Smyth and his wife Becca Moore have a 68 dog kennel in Willow, and the Babe bloodline is a big part of that kennel. Ramey has a pretty decent bloodline himself. His father, Bud Smyth, raced the Iditarod 6 times, and his mother, Lolly Medley entered the race twice. Lolly's other legacy was that of a harness maker, and she initiated the Lolly Medley Golden Harness award given each year to the top canine athlete in the race as voted on by the mushers. Ramey's brother Cim Smyth has finished the Iditarod 7 times. That's not bad for a human, however Babe has participated in the race 9 times and pulled her best friend across the finish line in 8 of those attempts. Ramey has finished the Iditarod 14 times, but he can hardly remember a race anymore where Babe was not an integral part of it. He is known for his fast finishes an that was taken into account when he and Becca named their kennel the Homestretch Kennel.

Typically, the Golden Harness award is won by one of the lead dogs from the winning team, however last year that award went Babe on the 3rd place team of Ramey Smyth. At the awards banquet when Ramey was presented the award named after his late mother, the emotion he was feeling left him speechless. Canines have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years, and sled dogs are no different. Sled dogs typically are in their prime between ages 3 and 7. At the ripe old age of 11, Babe will be starting her 10th Iditarod. Instead of hanging up the harness, she will be proudly wearing it - and a very special one at that.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Yukon Quest Results

February 14, 2009
  1. Sebastian Schnuelle 10:44 
  2. Hugh Neff 10:48 
  3. Jon Little 11:52 
  4. Martin Buser 21:04 
  5. Michelle Phillips 21:05
  6. William Kleedehn    22:40 
  7. Brent Sass 23:18 
  8. Dan Kaduce 23:38 
  9. Warren Palfrey 09:50
  10. Normand Casavant 02:26 
  11. Mark Sleightholme 04:58 
  12. Colleen Robertia 05:11 
  13. Newton Marshall 06:26 
  14. Luc Tweddell 15:59 
  15. Wayne Hall 02:33 
  16. William Pinkham 05:40 
  17. Becca Moore 10:13 
  18. Iris Wood Sutton 10:41

Klondike 300 Results

February 7, 2009
  1. Cim Smyth           07:57 
  2. Ryan Redington      08:10
  3. Lance Mackey        08:48 
  4. Ray Redington       08:55 
  5. Jessie Royer        09:13 
  6. Abby West           09:30 
  7. DeeDee Jonroe       09:33 
  8. Aaron Burmeister    09:34 
  9. Louis Bissinett     09:35 
  10. Kristy Barrington   11:09 
  11. Benidict Beisch     11:45 
  12. Jim Laneir          11:59 
  13. Emil Churchin       04:27

Kuskokwim 300 Results

January 16, 2009
  1. Mitch Seavey        38:30
  2. Martin Buser        38:38
  3. Jeff King           40:00   
  4. Ken Anderson        40:16  
  5. John Baker          40:30  
  6. Pete Kaiser         40:54  
  7. Ed Iten             41:22  
  8. Mike Williams Jr.   42:07
  9. Jackie Larson       42:32
  10. Hugh Neff           44:00  
  11. DeeDee Jonrowe      47:16  
  12. Dave DeCaro         47:25
  13. Quinn Iten          47:25
  14. Aaron Burmeister    48:02  
  15. Ron Underwood       60:08

Tustumena 200 Results

January 21, 2009
  1. Cim Smyth          14:50 
  2. Lance Mackey       14:52 
  3. Jon Little         16:26 
  4. Pete Kaiser        16:51 
  5. Ken Anderson       17:32
  6. Robert Bundtzen    18:06
  7. Jessica Hendricks  18:16 
  8. Gerald Riley       18:48 
  9. Paul Gebhardt      18:57 
  10. Kristy Berington   19:02 
  11. Jake Berkowitz     22:10 
  12. Wattie McDonald    01:59 
  13. Mike Barnett       02:01 
  14. Rachael Scdoris    04:12 
  15. Timmy Osmar        04:14
  16. Will Faulkner      04:15

Copper Basin 200 Results

January 10, 2009
  1. Hans Gatt           54:26
  2. Brent Sass          54:52 
  3. Sven Haltmann       56:18 
  4. Allen Moore         57:09
  5. Michelle Phillips   57:40 
  6. Braxton Peterson    57:52 
  7. Ed Hopkins          58:38 
  8. Harry Alexie        59:08 
  9. Jim Lanier          59:14 
  10. Aliy Zirkle         59:22
  11. Sebastian Schnuelle 61:03 
  12. Newton Marshall     61:48 
  13. Colleen Robertia    64:53 
  14. Mike Ellis          65:50
  15. Normand Casavant    66:44 
  16. Iris Sutton         70:07 
  17. Mark Sleightholme   70:20
  18. Cynthia Barrand     71:00
  19. Tamara Rose         72:34 
  20. Chad Lindner        78:02

Knick 200 Results

January 3, 2009
  1. Ken Anderson        11:00   
  2. Ray Redington Jr.   11:20
  3. Mike Santos         11:25   
  4. Mike Barnett        11:28   
  5. Mitch Seavey        11:31   
  6. Dallas Seavey       11:47  
  7. Matt Hayashida      12:10:07   
  8. Jake Lyshyn         12:10:43   
  9. Bruce Linton        12:29  
  10. Gerry Willowmitze   12:42
  11. Robert Bundtzen     13:23  
  12. Jake Berkowitz.     13:25   
  13. Sarah Spinola       13:48 
  14. Karin Hendrickson   14:28 
  15. Jessie Royer        14:30 
  16. Wade Mar            15:18
  17. Cynthia Berrand     15:22 
  18. Russ Bybee          15:29 
  19. Michael Supernant   17:33   
  20. Paul Gebhardt       17:44   
  21. Scott Janssen       18:20   
  22. Kristy Berrington   18:39   
  23. Anna Berrington     18:40   
  24. Mark Sleightholme   20:10   
  25. Robert Sexton       21:35   
  26. Emil Churchin       22:25   
  27. Joe Pawelek         23:18   
  28. Kyla Johnson        02:35 
  29. Kathleen Frederick  02:53 
  30. Angie Taggert       07:20 

GinGin 200 Results

December 27, 2008 

Women's Division
(women started 1 hr earlier than men)
  1. Jodi Bailey         23:55
  2. Colleen Robertia    01:28
  3. Michelle Phillips   07:26
  4. Aliy Zirkl          07:34
  5. Abbie West          10:40
  6. Yuka Honda          13:41
  7. Bridget Watkins     13:46
  8. Ava Lindner         13:55                  
  9. Judy Currier        13:57  
  10. Marie Claude        14:40     
  11. Jen Seave           16:34   
  12. Deb Moderow         16:40
  13. Tamara Ro           17:42         
  14. Jen Brown           17:50       
  15. Simi Morrison       18:57      
  16. Jillian Rogers      16:35 
Men's Division
  1. Brent Sass          01:58
  2. Ken Anderson        04:27
  3. Ed Hopkins          07:42
  4. Lance Mackey        10:44
  5. Harry Alexie        10:48
  6. Braxton Peterson    10:50
  7. Sebastion Schnuelle 10:58
  8. Hugh Neff           11:08
  9. Tom Lesatz          11:52
  10. Darrin Lee          12:23
  11. Rick Casillo        12:32
  12. Mark Sleighthome    13:13
  13. Allen Moore         13:40
  14. Chris Boyer         13:41
  15. Sonny Lindner       13:55
  16. Chad Lindner        13:55
  17. Louis Bissonette    14:29
  18. Mitch Seavey        14:30
  19. Dallas Seavey       14:33
  20. Jake Lysyhyn        14:34
  21. Yuho Ylipiesse      19:04

Sheep Mountain 150 Results

December 13, 2008 
  1. Jessica Hendricks   24:30 
  2. Allen Moore         24:36 
  3. Hans Gatt           24:38 
  4. Jon Little          24:39
  5. Jeff King           24:55 
  6. Jason Mackey        25:03 
  7. Sebastian Schnuelle 25:09 
  8. Judy Currier        25:18 
  9. Gerry Wilomitzer    25:23 
  10. Micah Dagelund      25:30 
  11. Ken Anderson        25:42 
  12. Aily Zirkle         25:56 
  13. Colleen Robertia    25:58
  14. Jim Lanier          26:02 
  15. Robert Bundtzen     26:03 
  16. Matt Hayashida      26:04 
  17. DeeDee Jonrowe      26:11 
  18. Louis Bissonette    26:22 
  19. Dallas Seavey       26:24 
  20. Anjanette Steer     26:27
  21. Newton Marshall     26:31
  22. Cindy Barrand       26:34 
  23. Jeff Deeter         26:34 
  24. Thomas Lesatz       26:43
  25. Sarah Spinola       26:44 
  26. Kyla Johnson        26:49 
  27. Jake Berkowitz      26:54 
  28. Robert Tasso        27:03 
  29. Lucas Cramer        27:05 
  30. Clint Warnke        27:19 
  31. Ryan Redington      27:34 
  32. Rich Savoyski       27:35 
  33. Dave Decaro         28:10
  34. Mark Sleighthome    28:53 
  35. Travis Fuller       29:00
  36. Vern  Halter        30:16 
  37. Jonathan Cox        30:29
  38. Ray Edwards         30:37 
  39. Nancy Yoshida       30:43 
  40. Blake Matray        30:46
  41. Berhard Wiljes      32:20
  42. Kris Boyer          32:30