Finger 1;33 AM arrival of Martin Buser
Martin Buser arrived Finger Lake at 1;33AM and then departed at 2;00AM confounding race fans trying to unravel a very unconventional strategy.
It was noted that Lynwood Fiedler made the same run from Willow to Finger in 2011 and then settled here for a long rest. Martin’s team eclipsed his time by about 45 minutes yet has continued. Pundits here in the Finger Lake checkpoint who monitored the GPS tracker also confirmed that Martin presently has the fastest team on the trail—taking into account that he has also been on the trail for 108 miles.
His closest competition at 2AM Monday were the Mackey Brothers Jason and Lance (about three hours behind, which makes sense because we believe they took a three hour break) and Matt Failor, who just happens to be driving the second team of Martin Buser.
I admit to a complete failure to understand what Martin’s next move may be. Theories circulate around the communication tent. “He put fresh boots on his dogs, so his intention must be to make a big move up the trail.” “Maybe he will push another 70 miles to Rohn checkpoint and declare his 24 hour mandatory.” “He has local knowledge and knows the warm weather will shut everyone down in the sunlight. He is taking advantage of the cool evening air and will rest thru the day.”
Karen Rampstead, Iditarod veteran known for her classic teams of Siberian teams, is in the checkpoint as Race Judge. She mulled over the trail distances to checkpoints wondering how his move would make logical sense. A run over the mountains to Rohn checkpoint would be 180 miles, more or less. From my own personal experience, I travelled 210 miles in 24 hours on a trail in the Brooks Range and the dogs handled it easily—-but there was never any intention to continue for another 800 miles.
Martin arrived at the checkpoint, quickly stopping to sign in with the checkers. One checker was advising Martin about the layout of the dog yard, but before he could complete his sentence, Martin pulled the hook anchoring the team and went 50 yards to a parking spot. He quickly threw down snacks of frozen meat to each dog.
Moments later he briskly walked, bucket in hand, to a water hole. Returning with water, he quickly distributed one black plastic quart container to each pair of dogs. Some of them drank water.
Managing effort, Martin then worked down the line of dogs, removing iced up booties and throwing them in the empty water bucket. Finally at the sled again, he grabbed some fresh boots and booted the dogs again so that all paws are protected. Even at these warm temperatures ice will form between the soft tissue of the toes and could cause rubs—hence the precaution to boot.
Advising the veterinarians that he was preparing to leave, “better make it fast, because I am getting ready to go,” he lined the team out, untangled back lines, packed his sled, pulled on his outer coat, and then pulled the hook. In the interim his dogs were whining, barking, slamming the harness, and lunging. The team loped out of the checkpoint, took a hard turn left and headed north into the night.
Fans inside the communication tent soon followed again his progress on the GPS tracker and noted nine miles an hour and faster. The team remains one of the fastest on the trail.
This move is novel, unique, and unprecedented. One final last surmise, “Maybe he is going to take a 24 hour mandatory rest in Rainy Pass.” But then, “Naw, that wouldn’t make any sense. He’s going to Rohn.”
Meanwhile, further down the trail
Conventional strategies appear to prevail amongst other top contenders including Aliy Zirkle, Mitch and Dallas Seavey, et al who are twenty or twenty five miles in arrears. They took three to four hour rests on the trail.
Before the race, front runners Jeff King, Burmeister, and Baker assured me they would be very conservative in the first day of travel.
Jason and Lance Mackey are running a classic “Lance” race and about three hours behind Buser. Nothing surprising in this move by Lance who likes to push the envelope, a strategy that resulted in four Iditarod wins.
The unintended consequences of Martin’s bold move. Our cameraman in Rainy Pass is so paranoid about missing a shot should Buser and team march to Rainy that he has not slept.