From Casey Grove in Finger Lake –
The word from Iditarod mushers resting here is that the trail is hard and fast, and some are finding it difficult to keep their teams from speeding. (Going too fast now could derail carefully planned tactics later down the trail.)
The ice made it a challenge to put on the brakes, said many, including Willow racer Justin Savidis.
Savidis said he’s been standing on the brakes for much of the race.
“I’ve been on the drag since I left Willow,” Savidis said. “The trick is to keep them to 10 mph. It’s a lot of work.”
“It’s too easy to injure dogs in these conditions, and yourself,” he added. “There’s no sense in taking too much out of the tank right now.”
Longtime Iditarod veterinarian Paul Pifer said he has not seen as many injured dogs as he expected. With about 40 teams into the checkpoint – officially more than 110 miles into the race -- Pifer said only five had been dropped. All but one suffered sore shoulders.
The shoulder joint is like a shock absorber on a dog, Pifer said. “When they’re on a hard surface like this, they take a lot of shock.”
Pifer said he was “flabbergasted” not to see more dropped dogs.
“I don’t know if the mushers are being extra cautious, if they’re getting extra lucky, or if it’s a combination of the two. We haven’t seen the back of the pack yet,” Pifer said about 9 a.m.
How are the mushers holding up? Some said their feet were sore from stomping on the brakes for long distances. The oldest racer on the trail, 73-year-old Jim Lanier, said he’d been bucked off his sled 10 miles out of Skwentna on the way to Finger Lake. Lanier is wearing a helmet for the first time on the trail this year, to go with the hockey gear he wears under his coat.
“It was one of those places where the trail was rough, going left, right,” Lanier said. “I kind of got on the side of the trail, and the sled just flipped.”
The helmet did not hit the ground, but Lanier said he’s looking forward to feeling triumphant when it does. “I can say, ‘Ha ha.’”
The trail becomes more dangerous from here. The steep Steps and the Dalzell Gorge await, and the difficulty braking could lead to crashes.
“It’ll be interesting to see what it’s like,” musher Pete Kaiser said.
Current Iditarod standings
Meet the sled dogs
More Iditarod coverage