Iditarod – What a Finish!!!

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“How did you do it?” an Iditarod Insider videographer asked.

“What’d I do?” replied Dallas Seavey

“You just won the Iditarod.”

“What?”

You stick a microphone in the window of any NASCAR winner, chances are the first reaction isn’t assuming they are in 3rd.  Chances are they wouldn’t mistake a woman driver in 2nd for their own father either.  Dallas Seavey’s shock about winning the Iditarod was shared by nearly everyone watching the race, and the timeline of what took place only shows how brutal this race can be, and how tough the decisions are on the trail.

Yesterday, the leaders were arriving in White Mountain, a checkpoint 77 miles to the finish. The stretch into the finish at Nome runs along the Norton Sound coast, is relatively flat, and except if the wind howls is pretty easy to stick with it. In fact, the leader in White Mountain has won every year since the 1970s.  With an estimated 10 hour run to the finish, Nome’s streets were starting to fill around midnight in the excitement of crowning the champion.

That champion was supposed to be the 4th win for Jeff King, who had at least an hour and a half lead.  He was ahead of Aliy Zirkle, who looked to take her third consecutive runner-up because she had nearly a two hour lead on 2012 winner Dallas Seavey and four hours ahead of his father and last year’s winner Mitch Seavey.  While the first third of the race was the roughest of any Iditarod, the dogs loved those conditions and everything suggested that a record time of near 8 days 10 hours was going to be recorded (that would be nearly 10 hours faster than the previous record).

The wind, however, kicked up – and kicked up much harder than expected.  Readings near the last checkpoint in Safety suggested hurricane force winds higher than 70 miles per hour. In those conditions, sleds and teams would be pushed around, sometimes sliding it way off the trail and even out onto the sea ice.  Dog teams have been known to stop and camp out in defiance to their mushers.

While the real story is coming in, some suggest that this actually happened … to the soon to be crowned Jeff King.  Somewhere outside of Safety, Jeff was blown off course and into driftwood.  The GPS tracker shows that he remained in one location for nearly 2 hours; meaning he fought tangles and the conditions for most of that time.  In the end, he scratched – putting his dog team first, he called help to get them free and protected before they were out there any longer in those conditions.

What happened next is also not understood completely yet – but the story should start to break later today.  The new leader became Aliy Zirkle.  She may had seen Jeff on the trail, but in those conditions that was very unlikely.  She checked into Safety first, and bedded down her dogs.  By doing so she would have seen that she was the first one in, and still chose to stop rather than push on through the weather.  Those close to Aliy believe she had serious concerns for her team to continue in the weather the last 22 hours, and stopped for a few hours.  It’s well known she is a musher who always puts her dogs first, so many are sure that she stopped out of concern for them first and foremost.  Only when Dallas Seavey checked into Safety did she made her move to get going again.  Dallas, for some reason, wasn’t aware of where the leaders were or what order they were in.  He made the decision to push through and spent only 3 minutes in the check point.  By the time Aliy got going she spent a total of 2 hours 40 minutes in Safety and left nearly 20 minutes behind Dallas. Because she had 10 dogs still on line, and Dallas had 7, the race was still on  for sure.

Shortly there after a race in sued.   Typically on the trail, if you can see another team behind you, you have to let them pass – but not in the final stretch.  They saw each other and would have fought for a trail position that was both fast and safe.

Dallas Seavey crossed the finish line at just after 4AM this morning.  He crossed in a record 8 days 13 hours 4 mins 19 seconds.  Aliy Zirkle crossed 2 minutes 22 seconds later.  It was the second closest finish in the history of the race (behind the still controversial 1978 “by a nose” one second finish).

For most of us outside of Nome, and aren’t insane to stay up all night, waking up to this news was a shock.  I have an e-mail service that I had set up to kick me an e-mail when Jeff would cross the finish, and when Aliy finished … but not Dallas.  So when I got up, I saw Aliy’s finish and I thought .. .where’s Jeff?

The race is only over by 2 hours, so early the 3rd place team has yet to cross (expected any time now), and while there was interviews Dallas and Aliy are resting now with their teams.  The race will continue until the last team crosses the finish line – winning the “Red Latern” award for the last finisher.  That is not expected for another week.

But there will be much more to talk about for the days to come.

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