The performance that Mitch Seavey has delivered in this year's Iditarod will go down as one of the greatest performances — if not the best — in the history of the race.
His son Dallas' victory last year is the only other contender. Seavey has shown everyone, his son included, that the Iditarod can be won going 10 mph at the finish — and doing it while finishing in less than nine days, a phenomenon that mushers would have scoffed at just a few years ago.
What looked unrealistic a few days ago is now bordering on inevitable — Mitch is on the brink of shattering the race record his son set just last year.
Even if Mitch takes a luxurious break in Elim, the final checkpoint before a mandatory rest in White Mountain, all he will have to do is maintain a pace of 8 mph (2 mph slower than he's currently going) for the final 170 miles into Nome to break the race record. It's even possible he could slip under 8 days, 5 hours, which would demolish the current record by more than six hours.
Seavey is not without competition, and the finish of the 2014 Iditarod has not been forgotten. That's when a storm shut down both Jeff King and Aliy Zirkle in the final 70-mile stretch from White Mountain while Dallas surged, overcoming nearly a three-hour disadvantage to claim his second Iditarod victory.
Mitch Seavey's chase pack, led by Dallas, is well aware that the race is never over until the lead dog reaches the burled arch in Nome.
So what has happened in the last 24 hours, allowing Seavey to dictate the pace with the poise that only former champions possess?
While most race leaders would be concerned letting other teams catch sight of them, Mitch has even let competitors pass him, as Wade Marrs and Nicolas Petit did en route to Unalakleet or as Dallas Seavey did in the wee hours of the morning out of Shaktoolik.
Mitch has elected to stay confident in his team and his ultimate trump card — his speed. So he rested an extravagant five hours in Shaktoolik before pulling over once again for more than two hours of rest in Koyuk, allowing Nicolas Petit to catch sight of him.
Mitch has yet to make a mistake and although the chase pack is doing everything possible to push him into doing something he'd rather not do, he is staying steadfast and in control.
A look at his pursuers:
Nicolas Petit is going for it, putting himself in a position to challenge if Mitch stumbles. Petit has been pulling off long runs with speed — not Seavey speed, but speed that any other year would have put him in the winner's circle. Petit seems to be the only musher within striking distance who could reach White Mountain without more rest.
When arriving in Koyuk, Petit told race watchers he would stay four to six hours. But in a tactic to throw off the competition, or a gut decision, Petit headed for Elim after less than three hours of rest. Petit will now attempt to run straight to White Mountain in the hope of picking away at Seavey's lead.
Dallas Seavey can never be counted out, but the defending champion is in uncharted territory and is clearly not in control of the race.
Iditarod Insider caught up to Dallas Seavey at a shelter cabin outside of Shaktoolik, where Seavey explained his thoughts about chasing down his dad:
"I'm running my team. Everyone keeps expecting me to do something to go catch up to him. You know, we saw what happened last year, (when) a team that's outclassed tries to keep up with better teams (musher Brent Sass' team refused to leave White Mountain for several hours). It's not good dogmanship to push a team beyond of where they are capable of. It would not be wise of me to try and make this team keep up. … It's going to end badly for us if we try that."
Dallas has positioned himself for a strong second-place finish with his main competition being Petit. He blew through Koyuk and will most certainly need to pull over for a rest once more before hitting White Mountain — unlike his father and Petit, who both can make one big push to reach their eight-hour rest in White Mountain.
Joar Ulsom has run an interesting last 175 miles after pulling over within yards of Mitch Seavey's camping spot 20 miles from Unalakleet. Ulsom chose to go through Unalakleet and Shaktoolik to chase down Dallas Seavey and pull over for a slumber party in the shelter cabin, joining him for a few hours of shut-eye.
Wade Marrs, once bubbly and energetic, was anything but when Iditarod Insider caught up with him Monday in Shaktoolik. His once-contagious energy had been replaced by resignation as his goal of beating the Seaveys slips out of his grasp. His focus has shifted to what was coming from behind, specifically Jessie Royer, and could struggle to get a top-five finish.
Jessie Royer has put in some impressive work and is within miles of breaking into the top five for the second time in her career. Royer is known for her strong finishes, and she still has her entire 16-dog team on the line (the next largest teams in the top 20 are Petit, Marrs and Michelle Phillips, all with 13 dogs). Royer is a true wild card and could push all the way up to third place if she plays her cards right and gets lucky.
With tomorrow night's Iditarod finish looming and with two new Iditarod records on the horizon (fastest finish and the oldest musher to win) the energy in Nome is growing.
If Mitch pulls off this amazing feat, he will have bested his last win in 2013 by 24 hours, leaving the question that every musher will contemplate for the next 12 months: "Will the 2018 Iditarod be won in under eight days?"
Jake Berkowitz is a three-time Iditarod finisher, including an eighth-place finish in 2013, when he was awarded the Alaska Airlines Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award. He has finished the Yukon Quest twice, both times in fourth place, and won the Rookie of the Year award in 2012. This is his second year of Iditarod commentary for Alaska Dispatch News. Look for his commentaries daily during the race.