by: Katie Writer – KTNA
By now, the Iditarod mushers are happy to be done with the hoopla of the Iditarod’s Ceremonial Start and are well onto the trail. Many of the front-runners had already made it through Rainy Pass late Monday morning. After making it through the first checkpoints, the daunting task of climbing into the Alaska Range to Rainy Pass can be heavy on their minds.
For any long distance journey, one has to take it one leg at a time. By the time the Iditarod teams have passed through Yentna, Skwentna, and Finger Lake into Rainy Pass checkpoint, the mushers know a lot about the dynamics of their chosen dogs. In an interview at the Ceremonial start, Ramey Smyth ponders some the challenges on the trail ahead.
“Rainy Pass is actually a pretty tough spot. The dogs are adjusting to the trail and it’s pretty hot. And then you have the Dalzell Gorge.”
Like many mushers, Smyth looks at what comes after Rainy Pass, the Dalzell Gorge with a little trepidation.
“It’s hard core forward back, over under, upside down, inside it. You know, the Gorge, it’s wild.”
Typically, the Southern Route is used in odd years and the Northern route is used in even years. Yet, the Southern Route has not been used since 2013 due to lack of snow.
Joar Ulsom is excited to be doing the Southern Route, where teams will be taking a left turn at
Ophir and head to villages such as Iditarod, Shaguluk, Anvik and Grayling.
“I am very excited about going on Southern Route and seeing the villages again that we haven’t been to in a long time. And last time I ran, it was my rookie year so it was kind of special.”
Ulsom anticipates the Dalzell Gorge to be a challenge in maintaining speed control with 16 powerful dogs pulling the sled.
“Just be on the brake and try the best you can to slow them down.”
“How does that feel when you come out of that Gorge and you enter into Rohn?”
“It’s a good feeling! Especially if you’ve gone down there and you haven’t crashed your sled, you don’t have to worry about it anymore. It’s always a concern.
Anything can happen at any time, but definitely going down the Gorge, if you make a bad move or crash your sled, you can ruin your race.”
Former Iditarod veteran, Rick Townsend of Delta highlights this years ample snow as a huge benefit for the mushers as they head into the Dalzell Gorge.
“The two years that I ran it, the Gorge had no snow. And it only takes one team to get off the trail and the next team will follow them and it can be a real mess. When there is a lot of snow there is a very defined trail and it makes the trail a lot more cush.”
The mushers will be enjoying the high calorie goodies they have in their drop bags to feed themselves and their dogs.
“Do you have special things that you feed them for the races?”
“Absolutley…any and all kinds of meat: chicken, fish, king salmon, beef, pork, liver…all pretty much human grade because you know, you’ll pretty much pull out of the stops for the Iditarod.
“I bet they are excited to get gourmet meals all this week.”
“Oh yeah, the older ones are like, “I’m going on this race!”
While the mushers will be focused on one mile at the time all the way to Nome, the race organizers and volunteers will be putting on their high performances to see that the 46th Iditarod runs smoothly.