Mushers Anticipating Tough Run Up Bering Sea Coast

Some mushers are still trying to hold dog teams back despite the fast Yukon River miles ahead.

The most experienced mushers know the river miles can be fast, but there’s still a tough run up the Bering Sea Coast ahead.

Four-time Champion Jeff King has run the Iditarod 23 times. He knows exactly what it means when teams reach the Yukon River.

Aliy Zirkle. Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC - Fairbanks.
Aliy Zirkle. Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks.

“Well it will be a chance to really evaluate team speed,” he said.

King’s competition is stiff; Robert Sorlie doesn’t start a race if he doesn’t plan to win. Aliy Zirkle’s team is primed from a winning Yukon Quest last month. Both Dallas and Mitch Seavey won the race the last two consecutive years. Nicolas Petit posted one of the fastest run times into Ruby. But he says the long, flat river miles may not benefit his larger dogs.

“I want to preserve my dog team for getting to the coast and then we can start playing around a little bit,” Petit said.

But the wind is forecast to pick up, transforming and drifting snow for more than 140 miles. A slower, sugary trail could help Petit who says he’s likely to continue holding his team back.

“I don’t really let me dogs run,” he said. “I just make them trot and so we don’t have top end speed because it’s not sustainable.”

Hans Gatt says there’s another great equalizer on the trail.

“Well, the dogs need rest, that’s the bottom line,” he said.

As the race picks up, mushers will start to cut rest. Jeff King says it’s tough to decide how best to do that.

“We’re all trying to be as chintsy as we can to rob Peter and not pay Paul,” King said. “We want to get the very most from our dogs energy and our energy.”

Lucky for mushers, they are required to take an eight hour rest somewhere on the Yukon. The key players in the race won’t shake out until after they’ve all completed that layover.

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