The Bering Sea will define the Iditarod once again. While details were still coming in, it has become clear that Nicolas Petit, the race leader leaving Shaktoolik, took a wrong trail on the ice of Norton Sound.
After reaching land, Petit turned his team around and headed back out onto the ice to find a trail, according to the official Iditarod GPS tracker. After an 8-mile, 1.5-hour setback, Petit looks to be back on the race trail but is no longer the leader.
While Petit was off course, Joar Ulsom seized the opportunity and took what appears to be the correct trail and is now nearly 4 miles ahead of Petit and leading the race toward Koyuk. Mitch Seavey, currently in third place, has just begun moving again after resting at the Shelter Cabin 15 miles past Shaktoolik.
While we may never know the real reason for Petit's misfortune out on the ice, one thing is certain: Petit no longer has any advantage over his nearest competitor, and Ulsom is now in a position to win the race.
With the longer-than-expected run from Shaktoolik to Koyuk for all the competitors (due to a reroute around bad ice and the current windy conditions), especially for Petit and his extra hour of rerouting, the options for how to run to White Mountain are becoming limited. While it is very unlikely that anyone will overtake one of the top three from the chase pack, it is very possible that we will have one of the closest race finishes in recent years.
The Norton Sound Shakeup is not only affecting the top three. Word has trickled back from Shaktoolik and they are experiencing a ground blizzard, with whiteout conditions and 40 mph gusts.
Ray Redington and Pete Kaiser blew through Unalakleet last night and ran straight to Shaktoolik, arriving at 4:30 a.m. Monday. They have now been there for six hours and just began racing again. Meantime, the teams behind them are beginning to pile up in Shaktoolik, as we have seen many other times.
Reports are that the wind should be dying down around noon Monday. Will someone try to push through the storm that is most likely hammering the top three at the moment, or will everyone wait until the wind dies down? Suddenly, fourth through 10th positions are up for the taking, with potentially 15 teams being in Shaktoolik by noon today.
The weather conditions are continually changing, and with Ulsom being 20 miles outside of Koyuk it is hard to predict next moves. But we are most likely looking at one more rest for the top three and then a final push to White Mountain for their mandatory eight-hour layover. Unless Seavey cuts significant rest to make up time on Ulsom and Petit, we are looking at a two-man duel to the finish.