5 PM Kaltag, Saturday Evening—-Seavey, Burmeister, Baker set to challenge Aliy on Portage to Unalakleet
Zirkle made attacks from Takotna to Galena, camping obscurely outside checkpoints for 4 hour breaks, and emerged on the Yukon with what seemed like a three hour lead. Others, including Dallas Seavey, Aaron Burmeister, and Jeff King played the math a little different and shortened their run and rest times—that is in comparison to Aliy’s 100 mile hops.
In what seems like a mathematical conundrum, however, a yard of mushers have landed in Kaltag basically even up. My contacts who a day ago gave Aliy the edge, now say the race is again wide open
This is what’s happening: (but take it or leave it, it’s just one point of view)
In a magnificently engineered play, Aliy Zirkle and team trotted from Takotna (remember, all the leaders took their 24 hours break at mile 300) in relative anonymity, where we found her emerged in Galena as the leader of the race. You could call her the contrarian.
In a more conservative style, Aaron Burmeister, the 4xchamp King,and Dallas Seavey, chopped up the trail into manageable fifty mile runs accompanied by short breaks complete with hot meals. (hot water to kibble and thawed meat.)
In between these two philosophies, resides Baker and Mitch Seavey.
After two days of these parries, the front group finds itself assembled, AGAIN, in Kaltag, more or less even up. With apologies to whom we may have missed, my group of Iditarod insiders believe we have the following contenders: Aliy, Dallas Seavey the Younger, John Baker the 2012 champ, Aaron Burmeister, Jeff King, and Mitch Seavey.
Aliy commands the race, but it appears Dallas and Burmeister are now driving the fastest teams.
How will it play out on the 75 mile portage to Unalakleet?
Check out your map of Alaska, and note that the Portage trail from Kaltag on the Yukon to Unalakleet on the Bering Sea Coast is both a cultural transition from the Athabascan Indian traditions of the Yukon, with a dependence on the annual migration of salmon, to the Bering Sea Coast, rich with sea mammals and dominated by an Inupiaq Eskimo culture, is also distinguished by very profound changes in climate and ecology. The Yukon is cryogenic, the Yukon descending into windless cold of fifty or sixty below, while the Bering Sea Coast is brutally vulnerable to coastal storms blowing unimpeded on a treeless tundra of low brush.
The change will be dramatic tonight as the teams leave the Yukon and descend over the small coastal divide, smell the salt air, feel the difference in the composition of the snow as they trot into Unalakleet, sitting precarious on the coast.
Questions my Iditarod analysts will ask?
Traditionally, the run from Kaltag to Unalakleet is a big test for the leaders. Usually, the teams will more or less run steadily for 11 hours, of course with snack and feeding breaks, to Unalakleet. This usually reveals the most powerful team. But lets couch this another way—-could be unresolved by Unalakleet.
As I write, Aliy Zirkle, our race leader, leaves at 5:20 PM (check the insider for exact times)
Soon to be tailed by the resting Seaveys, King, John Baker, and Aaron Burmeister. In my walk around the dog yard, mushers told me they were trying to get it clear in their mind who they were actually racing. They know that John Baker, with his powerful dogs trained above the Arctic Circle , are especially adapted to the Bering Sea Coast and they respect him—a lot.
I share that opinion, having actually driven his front six dogs last spring in Kotzebue. Respecting the ability of his heavy coated team to knife through horrific winds on the coast, mushers know the salt air will give Baker dogs the feel of a home coming. John Baker has not made a dramatic play, but we can be sure he is thinking of one.
Great race, beautiful dogs, a tight group of front runners. Our Insider crew leaves for Unalakleet in an hour to meet the mushers on the Bering Sea Coast.
Reports filter in from the dog yard—-Zirkles team looked elegant departing Kaltag in direction Unalakleet.