At 2PM AST Sunday, the Iditarod restart took place in Willow, AK, and it took less than a day for things to get interesting.
While Saturday was the “Cerimonial” start of the Iditarod (the 1000 mile dog sled race across Alaska’s most remote wilderness), the times didn’t count. The clock offically started in what is expected to be at least a 9 day race. The 66 starting teams were let go at 2 minute intervals starting with “Bib 2” Martin Buser, a 4-time champ (FYI – The bib number represents the starting order, however, Bib 1 is a cerimonial position mushed by a VIP only on the Cerimonial Start).
Buser left first yesterday, and is still in first as of 2PM AST today. He pushed through 169 miles resting no more than 30 minutes at the first four checkpoints (but now on a long rest). From the bloggers out there, it appears his Day 1 strategy was to get the dogs as far along on the trail as possible while they are fresh and to avoid “the heat of the day”. No seriuously. Where he is at, the temperature is 41°F (5°C) which is about 50°F warmer than what it is now in some stretches near Nome. The team is on a long rest and will leave out tonight in all guesses for a night on the trail. Most of the other mushers are doing similar plans except they spaced out more rest time early on. The first 250 miles goes through mountains as high as 4000ft, and the race is long to come after the mountians.
Suprisingly, second place is reasonably close for his bib number. Bib 61 (who left nearly 2 hours after Buser) Matt Failor arrived to meet Buser just four hours later. This means Failor has passed 59 other teams. Other big names, like Lance Mackey (who won 4 in a row recently), DeeDee Jonrowe (fan favorite), and Dallas Seavey (defending Champion) are all just a couple of checkpoints (and about 30 miles) behind the leaders in a big rest themselves. Dallas Seavey’s fans are concerned, however, because he had to drop 2 dogs early on.
For the record, dropping dogs is a common pratice. This is a difficult race for all the dogs, and its not out of the question that mushers and veterinarians get worried about the pups’ health. So, when a dog gives you reason for concern, you leave them with a handler at a checkpoint. The race starts with 16 dogs per team, but they need 6 to finish (either pulling or riding on the sled). Typically, finishers have between 8 to 10 dogs left; however, this early most teams still have all 16 dogs. Which leads to a speedy period.
Don’t expect this speed to continue, though. Each team is required to take a minimum of three manditory stops — one 8 hour stop at White Moutian (second from last checkpoint), one 8 hour stop along the Yukon River, and one 24 hours stop anywhere (plus a time differential to equal out the staggard start). Those are already beginning with some mushers who rather let the dogs rest through the first couple of days.
I use a GPS Tracker on the Iditarod website to watch the progress – so will try to throw updates when its interesting. Right now its rocking good interesting.