It has been a rough couple of days on the Iditarod sled dog trail in Alaska. While there is another familiar name at the top of the leaderboard, the mushers have been getting battered by a trail that is lacking in snow, making it even more demanding than usual. As a result, 13 racers, including fan-favorite DeeDee Jonrowe, have withdrawn from the race. But at the front of the pack, an interesting duel is starting to take shape, with the front runners about to make some of their more important strategic decisions.
Four-time champ Jeff King has claimed the lead out on the course by being the first musher out of the checkpoint at Cripple. He is be shadowed closely by Iditarod veteran Sonny Lidner, who is the only other musher out of that checkpoint at this time. The two men are now on their way to Ruby, where the first musher to reach the Yukon each year receives a gourmet meal courtesy of the Millennium Hotel. Reports indicate that not only would King like to earn that meal, but he intends to take his mandatory 24-hour layover in Ruby as well.
Currently running in third place is Aaron Burmeister, who was actually the first into Cripple, which won him a prize of $3000 in gold nuggets. Burmeister has elected to take his 24-hour rest there, which allowed King and Lidner to slip past him. John Baker and Paul Gebhardt are currently in fourth and fifth place respectively, with both men into Cripple as well.
The rest of the leader board is stacked with potential winners just lurking off the pace. More importantly, everyone in 6th place (Martin Buser) or lower has already taken their 24-hour rest, which will give them an opportunity to close the gap when the frontrunners stop. That group includes the likes of Hugh Neff, Aliy Zirkle, and Dallas and Mitch Seavey. Anyone of whom could emerge in a great position over the next day or two.
The Ruby checkpoint marks the 495 mile mark, leaving 480 miles to go until the sled dog teams reach Nome. There is still a lot of racing to be done, and all of the racers will need to take a mandatory 8 hour rest stop in there as well. That means there should be a lot of jockeying for position over the next few days, as the racers turn towards the final stretch. It should be interesting to see who emerges as the leader heading out of White Mountain and Safety, on the stretch run across the frozen Bering Sea.
One musher who has had quite an ordeal in this year’s race is Scott Janssen. He was forced to withdraw after suffering an injury on his his way to Nikolai after passing through the checkpoint in Rohn. After crashing his sled, Janssen was knocked unconscious. But determined to press on, he got his sled dog team moving again, only to later break an ankle after falling through the ice on Tin Creek. Janssen had to be airlifted from the course after that, and is now home resting comfortably. His story is an indication of how treacherous the Iditarod can be at times.
It will be several days yet before the winner is crowned in Nome. There are many miles to go and if the Iditarod has taught us anything over the years, it is to expect the unexpected. I’m sure there will be several more lead changes before this race is decided. Who will ultimately win the race has yet to be seen, but it should be fun to follow along as everything unfolds over the next few days.
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