Iditarod Update # 4: Teams set a blistering pace to McGrath
6:15pm, March 8, Alaska Time: WOW I just counted 30 teams on the trail between Nikolai and McGrath, all of whom are still very much in contention for a top finish. It is amazing to have so many teams so close to the leaders just over 1/4 of the way through the race, and speaks of the depth in this year's field. For the most part, they are moving very swiftly at close to 10 mph which means the trail is still hard packed and fast. In fact, Ken has actually gotten faster over the last 100 miles, which is pretty impressive. His average speed while moving is now 8.5 mph; in comparision, the fastest team is still Pete Kaiser, who is burning up the trail at 8.8 mph in fourth place.
Based on the lack of out times on the Iditarod site, it appears the tiny community of Nikolai has had a difficuilt time tracking all the action, especially since teams are only required to sign in, and don't need to notify anyone when they leave. Ken is one of the teams that is not showing as departed, but based on his GPS tracker it looks like he left around 4:45 pm, after resting for exactly 4 hours. He is still following his pre-race plan precisely, and now plans to run through McGrath and Takotna before declaring his 24-hour layover in Ophir. Ken will need to take a bit of a break in McGrath as he sent out his backup sled with some gear in it, which means he will need to locate it and arrange to ship it back home (assuming he does not need it). If he hsn't already, this may also be where he leaves behind his trailer sled. There haven't been any pictures or videos posted of Ken, so I don't know if he still has it or not. However, several of the other teams are still pulling one and Dallas had 4 dogs loaded and resting coming into Nikolai. With the easy pulling, hard-packed trail, it isn't toomuch of a burden to tow some extra weight. That might change as the hills become more of a factor between Ophir and Ruby.
Ken is lucking out on the time of day his runs are falling - he was able to rest through the hottest part of the afternoon today, and if all goes well should pull into Ophir in the early hours of the morning - giving him an early morning start time coming off his layover. I am sure this will play into his decision on where to pull over. Ken knows he has to make a strategic move at some point, especially with such a wide-open race. He should have one of the best rested teams on the trail to this point, that can handle this sort of an extended push into their long mandatory rest.
Time will tell! Gwen