December 9, 2018

Eye on the Trail: Tuesday Action in Unalakleet

Aaron Peck changed out sleds before departing Unalakleet on Tuesday afternoon. He’d shipped a smaller sled ahead for the 216-mile run along the coast to Nome. He changed out runner plastic as many of the mushers were doing before departing Unalakleet. Last Night Cody Strathe changed from red to green because the green had a wax that made it better for new course snow. This afternoon, Aaron was doing the opposite, changing from green to red. The sleds have a quick change runner system with a channel to slide the new plastic into with a pin on the highest portion of the runner that holds the plastic in place. It’s a simple process to change runner plastic, much simpler than it is for skiers to clean and wax skies for different temperatures and types of snow.

Aaron Peck, 38, was born in Ontario and now resides in the Province of Alberta. He remembers seeing an ABC Wide World of Sports feature of Susan Butcher winning Iditarod and began mushing shortly thereafter. He ran his rookie Iditarod with Martin Buser’s yearling team. Peck has won the 2017 Canadian Challenge and the 2013 Wyoming Stage Stop Race. The Pecks run Elevation Dogs offering boarding services, dog day care, sled dog tours and it’s also the home of their race kennel. Peck says he is excited to once again have the opportunity to compete in this great race and hopes to be competitive in the Iditarod for years to come. Aaron is a veteran of 4 races, finishing in ’00, ’05 and ’13. His best time is 11 days, 2 hours and 9 minutes.

Kristi Berington loves endurance sports and adventure. She is an ultra athlete who says, “What better way to combine those two factors than running sled dogs in the most beautiful place in the world.” Kristi and her twin sister Anna run marathons, ultra distance races and triathlons. The twins are always in friendly competition. Iditarod XLVI marks Kristi’s ninth consecutive Iditarod. She’s also run the Yukon Quest, the Kusko 300, Copper Basin 300 and the Northern Lights 300. Seeing Double Kennel, previous operated by the twins, welcomed Kristi’s husband, Andy Pohl, as a partner in the kennel operation. Often Kristi and Anna have come to the Burled Arch in Nome together. This year Anna is running the kennel’s competitive team. It’ll be Kristi and Andy coming into Nome together.

Rookie Andy Pohl grew up in Palmer, AK. Pohl is no stranger to the Iditarod trail but it hasn’t been with a sled or dog team. Andy is an adventurer and has ridden a Fatback snow-bike on two winter expeditions along the race trail. He met Kristi in Ophir on a ride from Willow to Galena in 2014. In 2015, Pohl biked from Fairbanks to Nome along the weather altered Iditarod route. Temperatures dropped to 60 below on the northern most sections of the trail near Tanana, Ruby, Galena and Huslia. Now, married to Kristi, Andy is learning sled dog racing from both of the twins. Andy’s primary racing experience is with the Speedway Cycling Team of Anchorage and in Ultra-distance cycling events of 100 to 400 miles. In the future, Andy may be specializing in long distance sled dogs racing.

Monica Zappa is a photographer’s dream because of her brightly colored clothing, sled bag, dog coats and dog booties. Her team stands out in even the flattest of light. Monica comes to mushing through her parents who have been involved in the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Minnesota. She decided that she wanted to run the Iditarod when she watched the 2012 start. She has trained with Dean Osmar and Tim Osmar. Zappa has completed 4 of her 5 Iditarod starts. Monica says, “The trail is the only place my mind can be quiet, away from the endless chatter of modern society. In addition from taking in wild Alaska from the back of a dog sled, I take pride in doing what I can to protect the Alaskan wilderness and its precious resources from exploitation.” In Unalakleet, Monica praised her dogs for doing a great job on the tough trail. She has a number of leaders but a dog with striking blue eyes named Blue Steel, seems to be up front the greatest number of miles and often times in single lead.

Looking at the tracker, five of the frontrunners have reached White Mountain.  Joar is on his way to the Burled Arch in Nome.  At the opposite end of the race, Tara Cicatello and Steve Watkins are resting short of Eagle Island on their trek north on the Yukon River.  Marcelle Fressineau is resting in Kaltag.  Twelve teams are on the old portage trail between Kaltag and Unalakleet.  Five teams are resting in Unalakleet.  The list of scratches is growing and includes Zoya Denure, DeeDee Jonrowe, Scott White, Robert Redington, Tom Schonberger (r), Allen Moore, Ryan Redington, and Wade Marrs.  

The single thing all mushers are talking about is the slow trail caused by the continuous snow and blowing snow.  Charlie Bejna sat in the Unalakleet checkpoint last night looking at the current stats and run times.  Bejna, thinking he was the only team plodding along was greatly relieved to realize that EVERYONE was running the same – SLOW.