March 21, 2018

Eye on the Trail: Sleds Waiting in McGrath

Mushers shipped sleds to McGrath. They are sitting at the checkpoint waiting to be called into action. It’s like a fashion show for sleds. Some are Prairie Built, some are Dog Paddle Designs and some made by the mushers themselves out of Ultra-lite but Ultra-strong hockey sticks. It’s been snowing the sled have a settled in look. Some times the trail is very punishing from Puntilla Lake, down the Gorge, and over the Burn. Mushers often breath a sigh of relief when the make shift repairs they’ve made to sled further back on the trail hold up to McGrath where a sled is waiting.

A couple of races back, Cindy Gallea broke her sled brake coming out of Rohn. She used wire and hose clamps to hold the brake together for the next 123 miles. She’s certainly not the only one who has brought a broken sled into McGrath. Other mushers send a sled because the terrain is different. They’ve gone the sled damaging technical sections of the trail so a lighter more flexible sled works well to the coast and even beyond. Just to satisfy your curiosity, here’s rule 15 which explains sleds, how many a musher can use and other restrictions.    

Rule 15 — Sled: A musher has a choice of sled subject to the requirement that some type of sled or toboggan must be drawn. The sled or toboggan must be capable of hauling any injured or fatigued dogs under cover, plus equipment and food. Braking devices must be constructed to fit between the runners and not to extend beyond the tails of the runners. No more than three (3) sleds can be used by a musher during the race after the re-start. No more than two (2) sleds can be shipped beyond the re-start. Should a musher use another musher’s sled for any reason that will be considered one (1) of the three (3) allowable sleds. These sleds may be used at the musher’s discretion. Sleds or mushers may not be assisted with sails or wheels. Ski poles are allowed. No other sled exchanges are permitted except that a sled damaged beyond repair may be replaced if approved by an official. Once a sled has been left behind, it cannot be transported along the trail. It cannot be used again unless approved by the Race Marshal as a replacement for a broken sled. One trailer may be drawn and is to be considered one of the three (3) allowable sleds.

 We expect McGrath Checkpoint to come to life early this evening. Volunteers have been hard at work not only preparing McGrath but also getting equipment and personnel out to Takotna, Ophir and Iditarod. Snow has made that challenging but windows have opened and the Iditarod Air Force is at work. The leaders are out of Nikolai on their way to McGrath. It’s a 48 mile run with new snow on plenty of packed snow. New snow is slow snow. Nobody will turn in a record time coming from Nikolai. The question is who will stay here for their 24-hour hour rest, who will go to Takotna and who will really push ahead to rest at Ophir or Iditarod. Mushers keep their strategies pretty quiet but it will all begin to play out in a few hours.