The Brent Sass disqualification is on the minds of many Iditarod fans. By now, many have read the Iditarod rule regarding electronics. The rule seems to leave the trail committee some wiggle room other than a disqualification, but as I have mentioned before, I am in my living room. What do I really know?
I know I listened to Aliy Zirkle tell the checker at Galena that she GPSed Jeff King to find that he had camped 10 miles below Bible Camp on the trail between Ruby and Galena and then ran all the way to the next checkpoint. I'm assuming that she did this from the Ruby checkpoint on an Iditarod computer. Otherwise, why wouldn't she be in the same pot of hot water as Brent?
My opinion is that electronics should be banned from the trail. That includes a GPS. The Yukon Quest allows them and many mushers are now lost without them; they forget how to see landmarks.
I hate to see the ability to read a map and follow verbal directions go by the wayside. Electronics have some advantages, but in many cases, they give too much information. I would rather have a village resident tell me, "Yeah, I think it was Jeff who went by a couple of hours ago; had a big gray dog upfront that might have been favoring a left hind."
I do know for certain the leaders are well along the Yukon. Expect some to park in Galena for their 24-hour rest. Taking the mandatory stop sooner might indicate some preliminary dog issues. Veteran dogs should be rolling along in a good rhythm by now, but teams with an inordinate number of rookies may have some problems. "What? We are getting up to go again already? I just curled up on my straw!"
The musher needs to stay upbeat and happy through all of this. Hide the temptation to think, "Oh no, I can't carry that dog." Two more rest stops and those youngsters will be dialed in and pulling to their potential.
It's unlikely that the race leaders have many rookies in their teams. The Mitch and Dallas Seavey, Zirkle, Martin Buser and most of the other teams out of Galena have enough dogs in their yards to field a veteran team.
Looking at race photos, it appears that some of the sled trailers have been left behind. Dallas still has his and carried a couple of resting dogs into Galena. He put them back in the team before he left.
I have heard rumblings among some racers and fans that trailers shouldn't be allowed, that they detract from traditional mushing. Maybe. Look back 100 years. Freighters and travelers had skis on, straddling the gangline, and steering with a pole attached to the front of the sled. The pole was called a "gee" pole and the entire sled became, in effect, a trailer.
The objective is to get to Nome as fast as possible while maintaining dog power. Buser tried a sail to help on the Yukon one year. It was disallowed. King rigged a sled that had wheels to help out on hard pack. Innovations are part of the sport.
Electronics are different? What would a phone call back home hurt? "Hey Brent, Martin is 40 miles ahead of you, and just came off a five-hour rest traveling at 10 mph. When are you going to make your move?"
Mushers can only run their teams to the best of their dogs' abilities. It doesn't matter what the driver wants to do, only what the team is capable of.
Speaking of capable teams, this morning shows Dallas Seavey and Aaron Burmeister headed through Galena en route to Huslia, destroying my earlier theory of old style run-rest cycles. It looks like the lead group has gauged the quality the competition and parted ways on their own schedules. Burmeister has made the move he needed to make in order to stay in the mix.
Dallas will have a camp spot already picked between Galena and Huslia. He took a snowmachine over this section of trail before the race. There are two useable cabins on the overland route.
Mitch Seavey has decided to take his 24-hour break in Ruby, which means he will probably take his eight-hour break in Koyukuk. That will be a smart move if it keeps his speed up.
King, who usually has one of the fastest teams on the trail at this point of the Iditarod, is running a bit slower than the lead group. He is experienced enough to counter with a bit less rest. He has lots of miles on his team and should be able to keep the speed he has.
Buser looks ready to take his 24-hour break in Huslia. Dallas and Burmeister will need to camp en route. Expect one of those three first into the Huslia checkpoint Thursday night.
Teams in the second group are staying fast with a bit more rest. Ken Anderson is comparatively well rested. Joar Ulsom took a bit of extra rest and his team speed was on display with a fast run from Ruby to Galena. Wade Marrs is also moving well and has yet to take his eight-hour rest. That could be a good trump card for him to play now that he is in Galena.
John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.