Alaska's Iron Dog -- the world's longest, toughest snowmobile race -- suffered a crash Friday that shook its fans to the core. The website for the largely volunteer organization crashed Friday, and consequently the race across the wilds of Alaska, went dark for 9,992 Facebook fans, many of them Outside.
"Pro stats is coming back soon -- troubleshooting in progress," the organization's website promised. Pro stats is where official race standings, which seem to change hourly, are kept.
A GPS tracking system that sends signals from the racers of sleds on the 2,000-mile trail from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks was continuing to work, and some on the Iron Dog Facebook page were directing people there. The GPS shows who is where on the race course, but offers no real clue as to who is actually winning.
The Iron Dog requires racers to take rest stops in checkpoints along the trail, but does not specify where. It only requires that so many hours be spent in the checkpoints between Big Lake and Nome going north and west, and the checkpoints between Nome and Fairbanks going south and east. Racers play a lot of strategic games with rests, taking them so as to set themselves up for what they guess to be the best travel conditions ahead.
For instance, if they know a snowstorm is brewing somewhere along the middle of the Yukon River, they might decided to take an hour rest in the village of Kaltag, where the southbound race meets the river, to give the weather a chance to settle before heading for Ruby, a riverside village a couple hundred miles down the trail. The math in keeping track of these stops can get so confounding that even Dog officials get confused.
Earlier in this race, they were busy trying to explain how the first team to arrive at the halfway point in Nome wasn't the lead team. Yes, you guessed it; it had to with the math that race officials call "course time."
The Iron Dog website managed to get back online after only a couple hours, and all was right with the world. The blackout didn't appear to affect the competition. Arctic Cat riders Marc McKenna from Anchorage and Dusty Van Meter from Kasilof, the defending champs, were in the lead when the race left Nome and remaining in the lead as the race neared the village of Tanana.
Racers are held over there, at the confluence of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers, for the last leg of the race into Fairbanks. The hold is designed to ensure a daylight finish in The Golden Heart City about 130 air miles to the west.
Iron Dog might be not only the longest, toughest snowmobile race in the world, but also the most confusing.
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com