Many thanks to Rebecca for this nail-biting report from the land of ice (and apparently not enough) snow:
Mother Nature is a leading lady on the Iditarod stage that should be given her due credit. Thanks to little to no snow, pre-race reports of poor trail conditions did not stop at the Steps, the Gorge and the Burn in the first third of the race. Lack of snow on the coast was reported in the weeks leading to the starting line. The overland trails may offer bumps without cushion and be more dust that snow. And, trails on the ice will likely be glare ice which provides little to now traction. Combine the ice skating rink with the high winds that are now howling and it can be easy to lose the trail. To provide the team as much opportunity for traction in the sea ice sections including the upcoming Norton Sound, AJ will likely remove the booties from the dogs’ paws and rely heavily on the studs in the bottom of his borrowed boots.
While I draft this post at shortly after midnight, the team has yet to leave Shaktoolik and begin their run toward Koyuk. It is likely that when the team does leave the checkpoint, they will have company of other teams that appear to be waiting out the weather. There is safety in numbers.
Keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times—it’s going to be a wild ride.
Our hearts are with Melanie.
Here’s an insider’s take on line-up strategy. Thanks, Rebecca, Snowhook’s generalissimo, for this overnight report:
AJ dropped Quigley, a lead dog before mushing the long stretch between Kaltag and Unalakleet. He has dropped two lead dogs thus far. He started the race with several leaders to varying degrees of skill and preference. The more lead dogs the team can start the race, the better as once AJ drops a dog another cannot be added to the team. Lead dogs have different strengths and preferences. Some prefer the twists and turns of the wooded trail, others like the uphill and downhill of the race while other lead dogs pick up the pace on river runs. There is something for everybody.
The team isn’t just about lead dogs. The position immediately behind the lead dogs are referred to either as swing or point. Swing dogs may be lead dogs who are resting from the headlining position or leaders in training. The bulk of the team is made up of team dogs that are the engine of the team. Wheel dogs, the position directly in front of the sled are often thought of as the simplest members of any dog team. This is not true. They have the job of assisting AJ while he steers the sled past corners and other obstacles. Each dog has a position and a purpose. Knowing that each dog is an important and valued member of the team, AJ will coddle and care for each canine competitor.
We are grateful for the love and care Melanie’s family gives her just as AJ cares for the team.
Welcome new friend Buster.
Many, many thanks to Rebecca, CEO of Snowhook – our team! – for these thoughtful and well-written reports:
The race has many miles. There are the beginning miles that hold newness and the excitement of another adventure, and the last miles that offer a glimpse of the finish line. And, then there are the middle miles. These middle miles can be difficult. They may not have the rollercoaster ride of the Happy River Steps or the bone jarring bumps of the Burn, but this section of trail has its own hazard of dismay. With the starting line far behind and the finish line not close enough, discouragement can become a companion while traveling the middle miles on the Yukon River. The team is at the last checkpoint before exiting the Yukon River and heading for the coast where the team will leave the middle miles behind.
Once the team leaves Nulato, it will be a fairly short run to Kaltag, but a much longer run onto Unalakleet. We can expect AJ to camp the team between Kaltag and Unalakleet, the first checkpoint on the coast. He will likely stop at new Old Woman cabin, a safety cabin on the trail that offers respite from the run. However, old Old Woman cabin is not so welcoming. Before he reaches the new cabin, the team will pass by the run down remains of old Old Woman cabin. With the clean quarters of the new cabin not much further down the trail, why may AJ stop at the shanty? Call it race strategy. Custom holds that passersby, in this case mushers, should leave an offering at old Old Woman cabin or her spirit will bring you bad luck on the rest of your journey. A bit of candy left on the woodstove should satisfy her sweet tooth.
Melanie was on the mind of our musher as he reflects on his run from the Steps through the Gorge and onto the Burn. If you have the Insider, you can see an interview with AJ where he speaks of our dear friend.
Melanie—You are loved. Never forget it.
Welcome new friends Josie, Bear, Finn the snow dog.
Why are we so enthusiastic about Snowhook, our team in the Iditarod? Just read Rebecca’s overnight race report and you’ll know.
The team has arrived safely in Ruby, the first checkpoint on the mighty Yukon, and the second of our dropped dogs are now home. I picked up Natty, a lead dog today. She is currently on the loveseat and snoring.
The team made quick work of the run from Cripple to Ruby which is no surprise on the hard and fast trail. I expect him to rest the team for several hours before continuing down the Yukon River onto Galena. Pacing the team does not merely mean riding the brake to keep the team at a steady gait rather than running too fast. Pacing is also about what AJ does when he’s off the trail.
Whether he’s camping on the trail or resting the team at a checkpoint, AJ will tend to the dogs quickly so the dogs can get as much rest as possible. He will give each dog straw to communicate to the dogs that resting is the name of the game. While snow melts in his cooker and he prepares a meal of kibble and meat, AJ will remove booties from the dogs’ feet and examine each member of the team. He will rub their muscles and paws with ointments, and cover them with dog jackets and blankets. This routine is all about efficiency. The quicker he tends to the dogs, the more they are able to rest. When his chores are complete, he will tend to his own stomach, any equipment repairs, and eventually, his own heavy eyelids. Depending on how long he intends to rest the team, AJ’s work will begin again in a few short hours as he prepares another meal for the dogs, re-examines each dog, and puts booties on 64 paws.
Melanie remains in our hearts.
And, thanks to ML, more of what it looks like up there: