At the driver’s meeting the teams learned about the new trail we were to run in Pinedale. It was to be flat for about 18 miles then some easy climbs with downhills the rest of the way. Sections of rocks and dirt would be present and there would be a couple sharp downhill “S” turns. We evaluated the dogs and we were in a toss up on a couple dogs based on the trail description. However, when we got to the parking lot this morning, we talked to Barrie Raper who is from Pinedale and often runs the trail. She informed us that in reality there were some pretty good up hill climbs on this trail and “moderate” was not the appropriate way to describe it. Plus there was 3-4 inches of new snow so we stuck to plan A for the dogs.
Temps were in single digits this morning and the sun came out and brought us to high 20’s, but it felt warmer. We went out with 10 dogs. Cracker and Shiner led. Mikka and Pepper ran point followed by Ivan & Anker, Perry & Epson, Umea and Bergen. The trail was soft, but had a bottom and there were about 3 miles of really punchy trail on some downhills. Bruce got to see almost all the teams today and see how they were moving. Barrie was right; there were a couple major climbs. Bruce said he ran about 10 hills and barfed on one!! His flatlander lungs were coming out of his chest. In the first 10 miles Bruce was averaging 16 mph and was passed by Joe Gann, running Gilbertson’s “A” team who had left 3 minutes behind Bruce. WHOA! Bruce spotted Jerry Bath right after 10 miles and he thought he might have gained a minute on him. They managed to maintain this for the rest of the race and Bruce just couldn’t catch him. He lost any opportunity there might have been when he had to change out leaders in the really punchy trail.
The team ran great. They were tired when they came in, but not whipped. Everyone was healthy, but the snow is tearing up feet with abrasions. Alot of teams are experiencing feet issues. There’ve been a couple teams that have had to bag dogs in the past two runs. I expect more on Big Piney. Bruce’s assessment was that we still have some work to do on climbing. The Gilbertson’s main team climbed really nice and had a great run, but it was not enough to beat the Streeper machine. Nearly everyone went out with 10 dogs today with the exception of a few. Dogs started/finished; Buddy (10/10), Lina (10/10), Aaron (12/12), Joe (10/10), Bruce (10/10), Jerry (10/10), JR (9/9), Mike (10/9), Krista (9/9), Debbie (11/11), Sam (9/9), Stacey (10/10), John Stewart (10/10), Laboda (12/12), St. Onge (10/10), Barrie (10/9), Adkins (11/11).
This is still a very close race and anything can happen. Buddy has 11 minutes on Lina and 22 on Joe Gans. There is 15 minutes seperating 3rd – 7th place and 12 minutes between 8-12th place. We could see alot of shifts in the standings in the next couple days. Doug Swingley rolled in today to take over handling for John Stewart and it will be fun to see if he can work his magic. Many of those dogs are going to the Iditarod after this and I know they want to be sure they can hold them together, but it will be fun to see how far they can move that team up in the standings. It is amazing to watch some of the small kennels competing at such a high level of competition. Jerry Bath started with 17 dogs and came racing with 15 and is having a very impressive race thus far. Sam has a small kennel of 37 dogs and is just blowing us away at how well he is managing his team. We all fear if he shows up with 12 at any given stage.
Tomorrow is expected to be a tough run. They are expecting -10 degrees and 20% chance of snow. If the winds kick up, they expect low visibility. The trail has only been groomed by a snowmobile from the race and it’s been run 2-3 times. We are expecting no bottom, soft snow and the turn around is apparently waist deep. This is always a tough trail. We will be taking 12 dogs to hopefully power through. They did take a big climb out of the trail and shortened it from 64 miles to 52. We were not told the reason, but suspect it has to do with the conditions and how long it is going to take. When this stage is long and grueling it is tough to make it to the Alpine banquet in a timely manner.