Arleigh Reynolds clocked the fastest time on the first day of the Fur Rendezvous Open World Championship Sled Dog Race on Friday. The Salcha-based musher, who finished fourth in last year's Rondy race, was more than a minute faster than his closest rival, five-time winner Egil Ellis of Willow, and had a two minute edge on last year's defending champion, Ken Chezik of Fife Lake, Mich.
In the 2011 race, Reynolds also led Ellis by just over a minute after the first day's run, but Ellis won the three-day race with the fastest combined times.
Good snow conditions and a shortened trail contributed to fast times this year. Last year's fastest Day 1 time was 88:46, which Chezik set, 8 minutes longer than his third place finish on Friday. Veteran Marvin Kokrine's middle of the pack run of 99 minutes in 2012 was close to the slowest first day time in this year's race, turned in by John Norris of Willow. Reynold won the first day heat in 2011 with a time of 91:45.
Race Marshall Janet Clarke said a route alteration was necessary because a high water table in the back country approaching the pipeline corridor, a section mushers call the Muldoon Swamp, created poor conditions this year. Even with recent snow and repeated attempts by groomers to set the trail, "the snow was not Rondy quality," she said.
This year's run connects a short-cut leg along Campbell Airstrip Road with trails leading to Campbell Airstrip itself. It puts a "loop-de-loop roller coaster ride" into the course, Clarke said. To make up for the distance eliminated in the swamp, an additional loop has been added southwest of Campbell Airstrip. The overall distance is slightly less than the traditional course, which Clarke said has been nearly 28 miles in recent years, but it is still near the 25 mile mark generally given as the length of each day's run.
Where the swamp featured straightaways suitable for speed and passing, the added loop features blind turns coming on the heels of the wide-open Airstrip section. Clarke said she thought the rapid shift between different terrains created a "more challenging, more technical" route this year.
The second day of the race will start at noon on Saturday at 4th Ave. and D St. in downtown Anchorage. Mushers will leave in two minute intervals in reverse order of their first day finish times.
Fur Rendezvous Open World Championship Sled Dog Race results, Day 1
Arleigh Reynolds, Salcha, 77:47
Egil Ellis, Willow, 79:09
Ken Chezik, Fife Lake, Mich., 80:09
Greg Sellentin, Willow, 82:39
Kevin Raymond Cook, Preeceville, Saskatchewan, Canada, 82:49
Jack Berry, Homer, 84:23
Marvin Kokrine, North Pole, 84:41
Greg Taylor, Fairbanks, 85:03
Robert Worden, Mexico, NY, 85:51
Marie-Anick Elie, Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada, 86:25
Nathan Sterling, Willow, 88:06
John Erhart, Tanana, 89:43
Brent Beck, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, 95:46
John Norris, Willow, 99:39
More Fur Rendezvous coverage is at adn.com/rondy.
Reach Mike Dunham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4332.
By MIKE DUNHAM