The next group of lucky mushers is off Norton Sound. In the old race days, mushers used to travel together for companionships. Often times life long friendships would grow out of that. Stories around the campfires were swapped.
There is no more camp fire mushing these days. Now the groups are loosely formed, with a different intention. Oh… so and so is leaving, then I better get going too. Even though these mushers have no shot for winning at this point, they are still fiercely competing for positions.
Hugh and Michelle have spend a lot of time on the Quest trail together too, over all the years. Michelle has finished 16th in 2012, that was her highest finish in her 5 previous Iditarods. She is traveling in the group 14 to 16th place right now. Her ambition most likely is to be on top of that group, to better her previous finishes.
For Travis Beals this is his 3rd Iditraod. His first one was in 2013. In both previous races he finished 37th. Travis at this point is traveling in a career best position. With being down to 9 dogs he has to be a bit careful with how hard he his pushing, as there is not that much more room for error. 9 dogs can travel well. 9 dogs with one dog in the basket slow down considerably, specially in soft snow conditions. It is a good move on Travis’s part to be trailing 2 mushers and thus having a somewhat broken out trail.
Now I had this text written, when I heard the news, that Travis has gone through Koyuk. Wow. That IS taking a risk with 9 dogs. Time will tell how this plays out. He is packing straw, that means he is not trying to get to Elim in one shot. He plans to camp out. That move has been done before, also by current front runner Dallas Seavey in previous years. Travis hopes to gain an advantage with camping out and thus cutting out one rest break. If he were going checkpoint to checkpoint, he would rest twice, once here, once in Elim. With this strategy he rests one camping. Travis did have the fastest runtime to Koyuk of everybody. 6 hrs 27 minutes is one hour faster than Dallas and Mitch Seavey were! I guess the power of youth is playing a big role. He was working like a mad man when Tim photographed him out on the ice.
Here are some shots: