March 23, 2018

Eye on the Trail: Thursday Morning McGrath


Out Times With Differential

At 20:28 last evening, Joar Leifseth Ulsom made the half-way checkpoint of Iditarod (mile 432). Tara Wheatland of GCI was there to present the GCI Dorothy G. Page Half-way Award. GCI has sponsored this award since 1994. The award honors the late “Mother of the Iditarod,” Dorothy G. Page. The winner receives a trophy and $3,000 in gold nuggets, which is symbolic of the historical tie between gold mining and mushing. Not to worry about Joar keeping rack of the nuggets and trophy as he moved own the trail. The award will be re-presented in Nome at the Awards Banquet.

Back at Mile 311 in McGrath, the pack of the pack has arrived. Jason Stewart brought 15 dogs into McGrath just before midnight. Tara Cicatello arrived shortly before 07:00 this morning and Tom Schonberger parked his team of thirteen Siberians a little past 09:00. All have declared their 24-hour rest. With differential added, Stewart who’s wearing bib 66 will be eligible to depart at 23:14 tonight, Cicatello can take off at 07:42 and Schonberger with bib 66 can leave at 10:47 Friday morning. If all goes as anticipated McGrath checkpoint will be empty by noon Friday and most of the race will be on the southern leg of the trail.

There are charts posted on the wall of the checkpoint with the calculations of departure time. Teams leave the start line in two-minute intervals. By adding the differential to the twenty-four hour layover time, the first musher who gets to Nome is actually the winner. Much the same procedure is followed for the JR Iditarod at the half-way stop in Yentna Station. The mushers are required to take a 10-hour rest and the differential for start position is added to determine the out time.

Misha Wiljes who is now resting in McGrath made a trip to the AC store this morning on the other end of town. Misha was born and raised in Prague, the capitol city of the Czech Republic. She has a degree in Graphic design and has worked as a painter for movies, TV advertisements and billboards. Misha is a traveler at heart. She’s seen much of Australia and the Yukon Territory. Alaska has been her permanent home since 2003. She holds dual USA and Czech citizenship. She learned about mushing while handling for Charlie Boulding, Vern Halter and Judy Currier. She completed the Yukon Quest in 2012 and Iditarod in 2017. She chose to comeback for Iditarod 2018 because of the southern route. She wanted to travel the Historic Iditarod trail through the gold mining towns of Ophir and Iditarod. Wiljes says she’ll return to the Quest in future years. Misha says her dogs are doing well even with the slow trail and warmer weather. She and her husband Gerhard have built their own kennel with brand-name dogs from Mackey, Jonrowe and Halter. Running next to those athletes are Alaskan Huskies Misha has picked up from the pound.

Misha Wiljes Talks about the Dogs in WW Kennel

Jeff Deeter took his long rest in Nikolai, then covered the 48 miles to McGrath and rested another seven hours. Deeter departed just before Noah and passed by where Pereira was parked. Jeff’s dogs came around the corner of the checkpoint building in full trot, ready to hit the trail a gobble up some miles. Between the smile on Deeter’s face and the enthusiasm of the dogs it was a beautiful Iditarod moment.

Noah Pereira who is extremely happy with how his dogs are maturing during the race headed to Takotna exactly at noon. In working with his dogs Pereira was carrying on a conversation with each and everyone. When he positioned his team to leave the checkpoint, he had to wait a few minutes. Noah, set his snow hook and asked the checker to stand on his brake while he walked up and down the line praising each dog. Pereira is a very thoughtful fellow. Before he left, he gave Anja Radano a Ritter bar from his cache of snacks.

Speaking of Anja, she’s from Talkeetna, which she considers to be a huge advantage for a masher.   The trails near there are very challenging and technical. Training on those trail prepared her for the technical sections of the Iditarod route.   Even so, Anja found the Dalzell Gorge tough. Much of that was due to being at the back of the pack. The trail was worn down in places and the ice bridges were reaching the end of their usefulness. Standing by her sled, Anja patted the driving bow and said, “Dog Paddle Design sleds are just the best.” Cody Strathe who designs and builds the Dog Paddle Sleds is on the trail ahead of Anja.