Tuesday, March 13, 2018

It's an Upside Down World

Bradley Farquhar's lead dogs at the Ceremonial Start
of the 46th annual Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
March 3, 2018 Anchorage, Alaska
2018 will definitely go into the record books as one of the more exciting Iditarod races. Equally as exciting is the new found interest in the Norwegian long distance sled dog race the Finnmarkslopet. As standings currently sit, a Norwegian is set to take the top prize in the Iditarod and an American is leading the race in Norway.

Times they may be changing.

While the race in Norway has seemingly gone off without a hitch, the Iditarod has had a tumultuous run. And we're not just talking politics. This year's Iditarod is giving long time fans all the feelings of a good ol' fashioned dog race in the 90s. We've had blizzard like conditions for most of the week. Just when teams think the worst is over another storm would blow in slowing them down once again. The Norton Sound proved to be the breaking point for Nicolas Petit's team as they were blown off course and ended up an hour and a half down the wrong trail only to find, once they backtracked, Joar Leifseth Ulsom's team in command of the race.

Joar entered the White Mountain Checkpoint at 7:52am, and so far no other team has joined him (though at 11:15am Nic is coming up on White Mountain and should be in fairly soon). He will have a substantial lead out of White Mountain (he can leave the checkpoint at 3:52pm). It's 77 miles to Nome from there. At the average speed he's going it may be a long night of mushing. Danny Seavey has him in at 1:30 or 2:00am. I'm going more conservative and saying closer to 4am. Until he starts running we won't really know what to expect.

Should Joar win he will be only the second Norwegian to win the Iditarod. Robert Sorlie is out on the trail via snow machine and cheered on his friend from the sidelines as he came into Koyuk yesterday. Sorlie won the race in 2003 and 2005.

And while all that unfolds, Dallas Seavey is showing that he's not just a force to be reckoned with on the Iditarod, the rookie in the Finnmarkslopet is so far commanding the race in Norway. Not that he wasn't expected to do well, but even he came out and said in the days leading up to the race that he had no idea what to expect but that "it's still dogs, and mushing, right?" And you'd be hard pressed to find an argument to suggest Dallas isn't one of the best (if not the best) mushers in the world right now. Yes I said it, please don't tell him I said it though!

When Dallas does get to the next checkpoint he will rest and then prepare to turn around and head back. Unlike the Iditarod and Quest where they start in one place and end in another, the Finnemarkslopet follows a loop. They will not take the exact same course, but some of the trail will be very familiar to the teams. This is not a foreign concept on a sled dog race. The Junior Iditarod runs similarly to this style, as do many of the mid-distance races in Alaska (for example the Tustumena 200 is also a loop, and this year was two shorter loops). This does not have the same effect on a team as does a course correction resulting in backtracking. There the dogs can sense that the musher "made a mistake" and they begin to second guess the musher.

So while the world of dog mushing seems to be on its head both in who's winning what and just the state of mushing politics in Alaska, one thing remains constant: the dogs. It doesn't matter where they are, or what the trails are like, it's just dogs and it's just mushing, and you can do that from anywhere.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Iditarod 46: Is Nicolas Petit really winning the race?

Joar Leifseth Ulsom at the Ceremonial Start of
Iditarod 46. Anchorage, Alaska, March 3, 2018
For the last two days, possibly more, Nicolas Petit has been in control of the Iditarod. Only two teams have had a chance of catching up with him: Joar Leifseth Ulsom and Mitch Seavey. At this point it's Petit to lose, however most race fans have considered the race leader to not be clear until the coast.

With the race becoming more and more about speed, with well groomed trails and lack of need for camping and snowshoeing, it feels almost foreign to have the race seemingly stall more than once. A huge storm front blew in early in the race, with most teams getting caught out in it. The three front runners, for the most part, have run ahead of the worst of it, but they too are dealing with a trail that has been snowed and blown over. The chase pack reported blizzard like conditions on their way to the Yukon, with many teams hunkering down in between checkpoints hoping the storm would pass. While it's a race, right now it's more of a camping trip for the teams not in the front.

Because of the weather, the checkpoint of Eagle Island is relegated to a "hospitality stop" - meaning there are no drop bags. Teams must now plan on taking as many supplies and dog food that they need to make the trip from Anvik to Kaltag - 120 miles. Back in the "old days" this is how this race was run. More camping between checkpoints and then again in them. We haven't seen a race like this - that I can remember - since the 90s. This is definitely not the "norm" of the last couple of decades.

As of now the GPS tracker shows Nic back on the move, but it's once again slow going. In most recent races, he'd be in Kaltag by now (but judging by the GPS he's about 50 miles away). He has an eleven mile lead over Seavey and Ulsom. Right now it looks like Petit's to lose, but he has been breaking trail for over two days. That takes a lot of energy out of a team and even the best lead dogs need a mental break when the trail is tough. Nic is known for pushing hard through the whole race, and his team responds fairly well to it, though by the time they hit the coast they have been known to slow significantly... and that's on good trail years. We've yet to really see what Petit's team can do on a thousand mile race where the going got tough for the majority of the trail.

Looking briefly at the analytics (my least favorite thing to do because I'm horrible at reading them, because I never pay attention to Danny Seavey's lessons) Mitch has the "winning team" still on paper. He's taking more rest and he's traveling at faster speeds... but Nic still has almost a two hour lead on the team. Likewise, Joar may have a slower team but he's running right along with Mitch.

Everything in recent memory says that Nic cannot keep his pace and his lead on the other two while continually breaking trail. But, the two following are playing a game of cat and mouse trying to get the other one to break trail. So far, it's been Mitch showing as being the one leading the two teams up the Yukon.

All the while, the chase pack is catching up. They may have gotten caught in the blizzard on their way to the Yukon, but now they're away from that, and someone else broke trail for them. The snow hasn't been as bad on the river, and neither has the wind, since Nic, Mitch and Joar went through which means the teams behind them are not working quite so hard. At this point they aren't in danger of being overtaken, but they can't sit back and relax anymore, either. The chase pack is 10 miles behind them. Their times to rest points are faster.

Expect all teams to take a nice long rest in Kaltag once they make it. Bruce Lee spoke this morning on Insider saying that it would make no sense for Nic to blow through and rest out on the trail again, but there again, we just cannot predict what Petit will do. He is a go with your gut kind of musher. The other teams need to just run their race, not try to catch someone else's race. It's worked many times before... on good trail years... it's the gutsy ones that normally win the bad trail years.

So, is Nic winning the race? Possibly. But SHOULD he be winning at this point? Time will tell how it pays off.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Iditarod 46: If Danny Seavey were King of Iditarod

Below is Danny Seavey's latest "blog post" from Facebook about how he would solve the current woes of Iditarod.

He makes some interesting points.

Iditarod 46: The Bottom's on top!

Cody Strathe's lead dogs lead the team
through Anchorage for the Ceremonial
Start of Iditarod 46. March 3, 2018.
The Iditarod has come into the period of true strategy. Teams are starting to take their mandatory 24 hour breaks. What checkpoint they choose is based on strategy as well as how their teams look as they get to the checkpoints. Teams like Mitch Seavey are resting where they'd planned to rest before they started down the trail on Sunday. Others may decide to push on because they feel their team wouldn't benefit from the rest just yet, and still more will rest earlier than planned due to the deep snow taking a toll on their team's energy.

All of this means that the front runners suddenly look stalled on the GPS tracker, because... well... they are. But it's not something to worry about. Once the teams get their 24 hour (plus differentials) out of the way then we'll have an equal playing field and we can better tell who really is in the lead. 

Takotna is filling up fast, and is a very popular spot for teams to take their mandatory rest (I hear the food is a major factor in deciding where to stay). Note that when they do "declare" their 24, teams CAN choose to leave before it's up... but it will not count as their 24 rest. And when we say 24, we also mean any differential they have to take. Because teams leave at two minute intervals, there has to be a way to make it equal, so the earlier you start, the more time you have to make up and the best way to do that is to add it to the longest mandatory rest. So for bib number 2, he has 67 mushers behind him... so it's 24hours+(67teams X 2minutes)=total rest for the first musher... which means Cody Strathe has to stay in the checkpoint for 26 hours and 14 minutes. Make sense? The only team that gets a straight 24 is Hugh Neff as he is the last musher out of the starting gate.

Mitch Seavey's time (who was first to declare his 24) into Takotna last night was 9:45pm, he is bib number 13, Neff is Bib 68 (remember the bib numbers start at 2, not 1). 68-13= 55. So He has 55 teams behind him... so now we multiply by 2 to get minutes added to 24hours... which is 110minutes so just under 2 hours... (1hour 50mins) So he can leave at 11:35pm.

This is what we diehards lovingly refer to as "Iditamath". I am not good at the maths so these times are unofficial and I'd trust just about anyone else but me.

This is the perfect time for fans to get some well needed rest, or at least get some chores out of the way. With many teams bedded down for the next day and half there's really not a whole lot going on. This is also a great time to get to know the back of the pack. A lot of rookies are just heading to McGrath having hit Nikolai early this morning. So many dreams come true to run this race. Make sure to give them some love too.

You can call and leave a musher gram for any musher/team by calling 907-248-MUSH! The COMMS center will make sure to get the message to your team!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Iditarod 46 Bib Numbers

2 Cody Strathe Veteran
3 Mats Pettersson Veteran
4 Anna Berington Veteran
5 Shaynee Traska Rookie
6 Magnus Kaltenborn Veteran
7 Ryan Redington Veteran
8 Linwood Fiedler Veteran
9 Rick Casillo Veteran
10 Rob Cooke Veteran
11 Wade Marrs Veteran
12 Andy Pohl Rookie
13 Mitch Seavey Veteran
14 Larry Daugherty Veteran
15 Matt Hall Rookie
16 Meredith Mapes Rookie
17 Ray Redington Jr Veteran
18 Michelle Phillips Veteran
19 Misha Wiljes Veteran
20 Kristy Berington Veteran
21 Ramey Smyth Veteran
22 Lev Shvarts Veteran
23 Scott Janssen Veteran
24 Anja Radano Rookie
25 Tom Schonberger Rookie
26 Allen Moore Veteran
27 Michael Williams, Jr. Veteran
28 Martin Buser Veteran
29 Richie Diehl Veteran
30 Peter Kaiser Veteran
31 Aliy Zirkle Veteran
32 Jim Lanier Veteran
33 Joar Leifseth Ulsom Veteran
34 Robert Redington Veteran
35 Marcelle Fressineau Veteran
36 Jessie Royer Veteran
37 Brett Bruggeman Rookie
38 Charley Bejna Veteran
39 DeeDee Jonrowe Veteran
40 Jeff King Veteran
41 Jessie Holmes Rookie
42 Tim Muto Rookie
43 Tom Knolmayer Veteran
44 Tara Cicatello Rookie
45 Jeff Deeter Veteran
46 Nicolas Petit Veteran
47 Zoya DeNure Veteran
48 Monica Zappa Veteran
49 Noah Pereira Veteran
50 Aaron Peck Veteran
51 Katherine Keith Veteran
52 Kelly Maixner Veteran
53 Alan Eischens Veteran
54 Ketil Reitan Veteran
55 Matthew Failor Veteran
56 Andrew Nolan Rookie
57 Dave Delcourt    Veteran
58 Emily Maxwell Rookie
59 Steve Watkins M Veteran
60 Travis Beals Veteran
61 Lars Monsen Veteran
62 Scott White Veteran
63 Michi Konno Rookie
64 Aaron Burmeister Veteran
65 Bradley Farquhar Rookie
66 Jason Stewart Rookie
67 Peter Fleck Rookie
68 Hugh Neff Veteran

BOLD notes Past Champion
ITALIC notes Reigning Champion

Iditarod 46: It's Rookie time!

The finish line and burled arch in Nome, Alaska. March 12, 2017.
Sixteen rookies are set to head to Nome this weekend on a dream come true adventure. The diversity of ages and backgrounds makes for a very interesting line up of rookies, so I wanted to take a few minutes and share them with the world so that they don't get lost in the shuffle. Rookies inspire us all. It's said more people have made it to the summit of Mt. Everest than have finished the Iditarod. Many rookies have tried and failed to finish the "Last Great Race". Some of the class of 2018 Rookies have a lot of miles on the books, and just as much experience. Others are as wide-eyed as you could possibly imagine. All are living their dream.

Class of 2018 Iditarod Rookies

Andrew Nolan - Andrew is the 2017 Iditarod Junior Champion, he runs out of Wade Marrs' Kennel - Stump Jumpin' Kennel. Nolan was involved in a dog team vs motor vehicle accident earlier in the training season, but all is well and on track for his first trip to Nome. You can follow his race through his GoFundMe page, or his "fanclub" Facebook Group.

Andy Pohl - the newest racing member of Seeing Double Kennel, Pohl is a newcomer to the sport of mushing but not the Iditarod trail. Pohl has finished the race via bike, as part of the Iditarod Trail Race that takes place ahead of the sled dog one. In his first trip, he met Kristy Berington - yes, of the Berington Twins at Seeing Double Kennel. The rest is history as they are newly wed (this past summer). It will be interesting to see how he does, he had a hard time on the Tustumena 200 this past January and had to scratch. Seeing Double isn't much for social media, but they do have a nice website.

Anja Radano - Having gotten the mushing bug somewhere around 2004, Anja started her own kennel 10 years ago in 2018. When not mushing the trails around her home in Talkeetna, she is a veterinarian. You can follow her kennel on facebook.

Bradley Farquhar - He learned the ropes from Sebastian Schnuelle and Ken Anderson. Good tutors who helped Bradley qualify for the race. Bradley seems to be a man of adventure judging by his website. He ran the T200 this year, but did not finish, something about dogs going into heat. Hopefully his run to Nome is a little less chaotic.

Brett Bruggeman - Can you say Dad of the Century? If you haven't read his musher bio, go there now. Seriously, how cool is his "getting into dogs" story! You can follow along on their kennel's facebook page to get race updates on this Montana musher as he achieves the goal of finishing the Iditarod. With his lessons from Doug Swingley and Jessie Royer, expect him to go all the way!

Emily Maxwell - The 33 year old Iowan is ready for her Iditarod debut. She's running out of Nicolas Petit's kennel, so expect a fast team. She looked great at the Tustumena 200, now it's time to run a race five times as long. No doubt Petit has taught her well. Follow her journey via her facebook page.

Jason Stewart - He fell in love with the sport in 2011, he fell in love with one of the sport's famous up and comers in 2012. Now he's running their dogs to Nome in his rookie year. We're used to seeing Melissa Owens mush to Nome, but they just welcomed their daughter into the world last year, so I assume mama's happy to be on the sidelines. Facebook is the place for updates on Owl Creek Kennel's musher, too.

Jessie Holmes - Life Below Zero is coming to the Iditarod. Not that they don't see below temps and a completely different life style on the Iditarod, too. But this race is all reality... like, real reality. The reality star, though, seems well prepared for the race, and is set to make a strong run to Nome. His bio states that he was inspired to run the Iditarod after winning last year's Kobuk race. His official facebook page is keeping fans updated on his Iditarod run.

Matt Hall - Smokin' Aces Kennel is coming to Iditarod! The 2017 Yukon Quest champion will make 2018 his rookie year on Iditarod. Clearly he knows what he's doing, having beaten some of the best dog drivers just a year ago on the other 1000 mile sled dog race. http://www.smokinacekennels.org/

Meredith Mapes - Fun on the Run Kennel is finally hitting the trail! The Junior Iditarod veteran took time off for school and other pursuits, but was eventually wooed back to the sport and she has successfully built her team back up to hit the Last Great Race. She has raised most of her team from puppyhood, and they have serious pedigrees. Mapes works for Mitch Seavey's tours in the summer time, and Seavey is one of her sponsors. It will be exciting to see what Meredith can accomplish! Follow her race on facebook!

Michi Konno - Another one of the more interesting mushers (in my opinion anyway) trying out the Iditarod this year is Michi Konno. Originally from Japan, he moved to Alaska around 25 years ago. He originally got into sprint mushing, and did rather well on that circuit and at one point had a large number of dogs to choose for his team. After retiring from sprint racing he focused on other interests, but it's always been a goal to run the Iditarod. I wish I knew more about him but most of his website (and social media) is not in english! But you can still follow if you wish on his website here.

Peter Fleck - It's the Seavey Puppy Team! Peter will be running his rookie race training the future super stars of Mitch Seavey's kennel. Expect a solid showing for this team. Peter's main goal will to keep the race positive for his team and get as many as he can to the finish line (what every team's goal is, really). He won't be breaking any speed records, and it will be more of a camping trip, but at a nice clip. I assume there will be a few updates on his race from Seavey's Ididaride Facebook Page, but since I no longer run it I'm not really sure what to expect (haha).

Shaynee Traska - A childhood dream come true, this is something Shaynee's been planning since she was 9 years old. She started her kennel when she was in her teens, and now she's here. Expect a giant smile on race day. Follow her journey on facebook.

Tara Cicatello - Bacon Acres will be represented by a rookie this year. Kristin isn't racing, but Tara is ready to go! You might recognize her name as she reported on the race for a couple of years for Nome's radio station KNOM. That's actually how she got into the sport, and how she met Jeff King and Kristin Bacon. Follow along with her race on the Bacon Acres' Facebook Page.

Tim Muto - Tim is "entering the Iditarod to live intentionally and to squeeze the marrow out of life and to travel 1000 miles across Alaska." He will be running a combination of his dogs and Brent Sass's dogs (all dogs are from Sass lines). Muto has been great to share his mushing adventures on social media, and I assume someone will be giving updates while he's on the trail. Follow his race.

Tom Schonberger - One of the few mushers who run an all Siberian Husky team, Tom is entering his first Iditarod with a goal of showing off what the dogs are capable of. Many say that Siberians are too big and slow to run sled dog races anymore, but you can't help but love seeing those beautiful dogs all hooked up loping down the trail. Follow his kennel's facebook page.

Which rookie(s) do you plan to follow? Comment with your thoughts and cheers below!