Friday, March 10, 2023

Mushing Radio: The Mighty Yukon River

Join hosts Robert Forto Toni Reitter and Michele Forto as they talk about the Might Yukon River and much more on tonights Iditraod podcast 


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. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Mushing Radio: Takotna Pies

Join hosts Robert Forto Michele Forto and Toni Reitter as we discuss the famous Takotna pies,
24 hour rests and much more on our Iditarod show. 


Shhh! They're all sleeping on the Iditarod today!

It was a quiet day on the Iditarod trail. Oh, sure, there was the occasional howling team and the airplanes buzzing around, but no one was really moving. That's because Wednesday was the day most teams chose to took their 24 hour mandatory rest. Teams stretched from Nikolai to Ophir with only two mushers by the end of Wednesday choosing not to take their 24.

Wade Marrs blew through each of the busy napping checkpoints and is now on his way to the half-way point of the ghost town Iditarod. Iditarod was once a bustling community, one of the biggest "cities" in Alaska, during the Gold Rush Era and was the original goal of Joe Redington's race (hence the whole Iditarod Trail Race). Redington's original goal was something similar to what we saw back in 2021 (the Gold Loop Trail) where teams would leave from Knik or Anchorage and head to Iditarod before turning around and coming back. As of Wednesday afternoon Wade was the only musher who had decided to head that direction.

While the first few days of the race slowed teams and thwarted their plans because of the hot sun beating down and warming things up and melting the trail - Wednesday's trail saw cloudy skies that quickly turned to wet snow and freezing rain. It was anyone's guess what sort of trail Marrs and team would find past Ophir and every musher interviewed about what they expected were noting they were waiting to see how Wade did. According to a very recent report from Wade's facebook page, snowmachiners drove all over the trail to Iditarod and so it has been slow going as the dogs and musher try to find the packed trail.

In the back of the pack, Mike Williams Jr. may be the last one on the GPS, but he was one of the first to finish his 24 back in Nikolai. He will now be able to slingshot ahead of others who are still resting in McGrath if he so chooses. Next to last is Gregg Vitello who has yet to take his 24 and if he isn't declaring it now in McGrath he's looking at falling even further behind. 

Richie Diehl was the first out of Takotna after his 24 with Ryan Redington out three minutes later. Both teams were amped as they left, Redington's team angrily barking when Diehl's team left without them. Before they left as the teams started to rise as they prepared the dogs to go the entire dog yard of Takotna broke out into the most beautiful howl. Bruce Lee estimated there were around one hundred dogs there singing.

Nicolas Petit took his 24 back in Nikolai and has flown up the trail since leaving the checkpoint this morning. He is out of Takotna and very close to Ophir. He's rested on the trail in what looks like an attempt to break up the run to Iditarod in 3 runs. Petit, though, doesn't follow the norm and it's anyone's guess what he and his team actually do.

Teams will continue to leave throughout the late night/early morning hours. This is where the race truly begins. Hold on tight, folks!

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Mushing Radio: First to McGrath

Join hosts Robert Forto Michele Forto and Toni Reitter as they discuss the First to McGrath and much more on tonights Iditarod podcast


Leaders blow through McGrath, Petit 24s in Nikolai

Ryan Redington waves during the Ceremonial
Start of Iditarod 51. March 4, 2023. 
Anchorage, Alaska.
McGrath was busy and then it wasn't tonight as the top nine teams are into Mcgrath and eight of those are out of the checkpoint. Only Kelly Maixner sits in McGrath right now having declared his 24 (after saying yesterday he was shooting for Takotna). Ryan Redington was first into the hub checkpoint, receiving the Spirit of Iditarod award along with a pair of beaver mitts and fur hat. The musher did not stay long in the amenity filled checkpoint and chose to continue to run twenty miles to the next checkpoint of Takotna.

Soon after Redington left, Jessie Holmes reached McGrath choosing to take a few minutes to grab some items out of his drop bag before giving chase. Diehl was hot on Holmes' heels spending almost no time in the checkpoint before continuing on down the trail. rounding out the top five were Brent Sass and Pete Kaiser who spent even less time in McGrath before continuing on. 

It's the point in the race where it's anyone's guess where the leaders will take their 24. Many expected more to stop in McGrath, but everyone save Kelly has so far blown through on their way to Takotna. Some will stay in the checkpoint known for its food (especially pies), others will continue to Ophir, and one or two may be very ambitious and run to Iditarod (breaking it up in two runs). The trail report coming into McGrath says the trail is slower than expected. That is most likely due to the trail deteriorating in the near 40 degree temps during the day melting away the packed trail and turning it into... well... mush. Not only does the sun do a number on the snow all day, it also quickly overheats working sled dogs so more breaks are needed to let them cool down. Jessie Holmes reported he took at least ten small breaks to let the dogs cool off.

While teams continue to make their way up the trail, Nicolas Petit declared his 24 in Nikolai. It's unclear if this was his plan from the get go, or if he needed the time to fix sleds or give his dogs a long rest and hope they bounce back for the rest of the race. Nic likes to go fast and fly by the seat of his pants so it's anyone's guess, but he will be coming off his rest mid-morning Wednesday and if temps remain as they have been the last couple of days he will be running in the heat of the day to catch the lead pack who will all most likely be on their 24s. If he is hoping to sling shot ahead of others he needs to hope that his team rested at the right time and recovered from their runs in the heat earlier in the week... and he has to hope that the warm days do not zap the team's energy - and that the mushy, punchy trail does not create sore muscles on his dogs.

As of 10:30pm, there are now six teams in Takotna - though Holmes and Sass are in and now out of Takotna on their way to Ophir where it is expected they will declare their 24s. Richie Diehl and Ryan Redington (who was first to Takotna) chose to stay and it's unsure if they declared. Pete Kaiser came in just moments ago and his team did not want to stop with many still banging against their harness and barking up a storm - Bruce Lee of Iditarod Insider mentioned that his team looked as strong and beautiful as they did in Anchorage. Huge praise for the 2019 Iditarod Champion's team. Kaiser likes to 24 in Takotna and it was predicted he would do so again this year. Matt Failor just pulled into Takotna and it looks like he will stay for a spell.

Tonight and into tomorrow is all about teams making it to the checkpoint they plan to reset and recharge on their 24. Remember, this is also where they will equalize their time differentials, so Pete Kaiser in the front of the pack needs to rest only two extra minutes during his 24 and will be able to slingshot over many of the teams that are currently out ahead of him. Petit is the biggest unknown at this point to figure out just how he stands against the teams in Takotna. We'll see him take off sometime after 8am on Wednesday and that should be a good tell as to how this next part of the race will go for Nic.

Enjoy the evening, folks, this is where the Iditamath begins. 

Monday, March 6, 2023

Rookie Jennifer LaBar scratches in Rainy Pass

Jennifer LaBar during the Ceremonial Start
of Iditarod 51. March 4, 2023.
Anchorage, Alaska
The Iditarod has its first scratch of the race in rookie musher Jennifer LaBar. LaBar was running a good race until she encountered trouble on the Happy River Steps where she sustained an injury to her ring finger on her left hand during a sled crash. While in good spirits retelling the story to the Insider earlier in the day, after talking with medical staff, LaBar made the very difficult decision to cut her race short. All dogs were doing well when she made her decision. See the full statement from the Iditarod below:




March 6, 2023

 Rookie Iditarod musher, Jennifer LaBar, scratches at Rainy Pass Checkpoint

Anchorage, Alaska – Rookie Iditarod musher, Jennifer LaBar (bib #13), of Healy, Alaska,  scratched at 8:30 p.m. today at the Rainy Pass checkpoint.

After speaking with medical professionals, Jennifer made the very difficult decision to scratch due to a hand injury sustained earlier in the day.

LaBar had 13 dogs in harness when she arrived in Rainy Pass, all in good health.

All teams into Rainy Pass, leaders out of Rohn

Anna Berington's lead dogs during the Ceremonial
Start of Iditarod 51. March 4, 2023.
Anchorage, Alaska.
After a perfectly crisp (read: downright cold for us normal folk) weekend of starts, the Iditarod's first full day saw temps climb into the 40s thanks to the crystal clear blue sky and bright sun. Teams all along the trail chose to rest early and longer than their original schedules called for because it was just too dang hot. Reports of soft trail explained the numerous returned dogs reported so early in the race. Nothing major with the pups, just sore muscles and mushers not willing to take that chance.

Among those returned dogs is Ryan Redington's famed dog Wildfire. Wildfire, fans will recall, was the dog in Redington's team who last year in a training run was hit by a snow machine that then left the scene (and the coward never came forward). Through extensive surgeries and rehab, the goal originally was just for the dog to regain mobility and not lose the leg that ended up broken in several places. Instead, just over a year later, Wildfire was back on the main team coming in third place in the competitive field of the John Beargrease marathon. Redington had to leave Wildfire in the checkpoint of Skwentna late Sunday evening due to Wildfire showing signs of soreness in his leg. Ryan was visibly bummed that Wildfire couldn't continue commenting to Insider, "[all of the dogs] are my buddies, but he's extra special." While Wildfire is not continuing down the trail, Ryan is carrying the pins that Wildfire had surgically placed in his leg to repair it, Ryan had them made into something like a keychain when they were removed.

Also having some difficulty on the trail were rookies KattiJo Deeter and Jennifer LaBar. Deeter is on her second attempt at an Iditarod finish after the musher had to scratch during the windstorm that knocked out several teams in the Topkok Hills. Today it seemed like her race may end before even making it out of the first set of mountains. During a crash down the Happy River Steps, notorious for these sort of issues, KattiJo broke two stanchions on her sled. She had to detour from her planned run schedule to stay in Rainy Pass and try and repair her sled. Thanks to some assistance from a checkpoint volunteer she was able to get the material she needed to make the sled useable again. Deeter is now back on the trail heading for the Gorge (and the checkpoint of Rohn).

LaBar equally had a difficult time on the Steps, and in the first flight she had an epic crash where her left hand became pinched between a snowbank and her handlebar (she thinks). Her ring finger is at the very least dislocated and at worst broken. She still seemed in good spirits when chatting with the Iditarod Insider in the checkpoint of Rainy Pass as she iced her finger. This is a typical mushing injury for humans and while Insider suggested in their caption that the rookie musher was contemplating what this means for the rest of her race, most mushers are already chiming in saying it's no big deal and that she will continue on down the trail. 

The lead pack of Redington, Holmes, Sass, Maixner, Diehl, Burke, Porsild, Kaiser, and Failor are all out of Rohn and headed to Nikolai. Trail reports from Race Marshal Mark Nordman for this stretch of the trail are not looking good. Nordman told the mushers that the moguls were the worst he's ever seen and were roughly four feet high. There's reports of little to no snow (common for the burn, an area that is barren land due to a large forest fire that swept through the area around one hundred years ago and nothing has seemed to grow back. With no trees to block the wind any snow that lands there is swept away quickly leaving bare ground.) which means it's just hold on and hope your sled survives. The burn is roughly forty miles long. Don't expect teams to come into Nikolai until morning (Insider guesses around sun up which would be 7am...ish).

It's still far too early to declare an outright leader. We won't know how that shakes out until teams take their 24 hour mandatory rest (plus their time differential). That won't happen until they start to hit McGrath at the earliest (unless someone's race is going off the rails which no one appears to be in trouble like that) so we have another day of just trying to make it out of the mountains and burn for most of the teams.

Get some rest, Iditafans, the race is still just finding its rhythm. 

Mushing Radio: Heat Wave!

Join hosts Robert Forto and Toni Reitter as they present Heat Wave! on their daily coverage of the Iditarod.