Friday, March 10, 2023

Made it to the Yukon

Jessie Holmes and team during the Ceremonial
Start of Iditarod 51. March 4, 2023.
Anchorage, Alaska.
Jessie Holmes was first to the Yukon this morning and his five course meal from new race sponsor the Marx Bros Cafe. Holmes chose to take his mandatory 8 hour rest on the Yukon in Anvik to fully enjoy his meal and give his dogs as much rest as possible before heading down the river where reports of overflow were the talk of much of the day. 

As the front pack hit the mighty river, many chose to take their 8 relatively early in the first two checkpoints of Anvik and Grayling. The middle of the pack were all out of the checkpoint of Iditarod and on their way to Shageluk and Anvik, while the back of the pack finished up their rests in the checkpoint to hit the trail this evening. Only Gregg Vitello remains on his way to Iditarod where concern grows that he will be cutting his race short by way of race withdrawal being deemed non-competitive. Time will tell if things improve for the rookie.

In Grayling, Iditarod veteran and Kusko Champ Richie Diehl was surprised by his family as he pulled into the checkpoint. Declaring his mandatory 8 the very tired musher spent time with his partner and their new baby boy which was no doubt the perfect morale boost for the musher. Diehl has run the majority of his race alongside best friend and competitor Pete Kaiser and both teams are poised to make a move as they get closer to their "home turf". Both left Grayling as the sun was setting Friday chasing after Jessie Holmes, Brent Sass, and Nicolas Petit.

Speaking of Petit, he is "very happy" with how his team looks and it seems that Petit is trying to play around with some semblance of strategy. He isn't just burning up trail, took his mandatory rests early, and has been giving the team more rest. Petit says HE'S the one doing more sleeping and that's why, but maybe - just maybe - he's listening to those that have told him to have at least the outline of a game plan.

Brent Sass is currently leading, being the only team to have made it to Eagle Island close to 9:30pm according to the trackers. Eagle Island is one of the most remote checkpoints and it is hard to get information in and out quickly - you won't see Insider broadcasting live from the little spit of land growing out of the Yukon River. This is the first time in a long time Iditarod has even had a working checkpoint here as in 2019 weather kept them from being able to get the drop bags and other infrastructure to the Island. 

Of the front runners, only Brent Sass has yet to take his 8 - which he will have to take in Kaltag if he doesn't stay on Eagle Island as it is the last checkpoint on the river. Eagle Island seems more Brent's speed as it's far less busy and noisy than that of the village checkpoints. In the chase pack, Kelly Maixner, Mille Porsild, and Christian Turner are all still needing their 8. 

The top rookies are still showing strong with Eddie Burke and Hunter Keefe battling for not only that top ten finish (Burke is currently 10th, Keefe 11th) but that coveted Rookie of the Year. KattiJo Deeter is also hanging out in the top fifteen which is a huge improvement from last year when she was running her kennel's younger team as her husband ran the a-team. She didn't have to share this year and other than her broken sled issues in Rainy Pass, Deeter has shown just how tough she is. 

Tomorrow will be a race for the Coast and then from there on out the finish order will shake out as teams shed all extra weight to run up the coast to Nome. The teams are so close together still it's not quite for certain just who, if any, will truly break away from the rest. Don't plan on cat napping much from here on out - at least not until they reach White Mountain. 

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