Martin Buser’s 4-hour lead has been cut in half between Eagle Island and Kaltag, as a team of faster mushers, led by Aliy Zirkle, give chase. Zirkle is just 12 miles behind Buser, who is 23 miles short of the Kaltag checkpoint.
Last night Buser reached the Eagle Island checkpoint at 9:55pm (AKST). He left two dogs lighter with a team of 11 at 2:41 am, just three hours and ten minutes ahead of Zirkle. Zirkle was followed less than an hour later by Mitch Seavey, Jessie Royer, Aaron Burmeister, and Jake Burkowitz. Rookie Joar Leifseth Ulsom, who thus far has had a spectacular race, left a little more than an hour after Zirkle and French musher Nicolas Petit left an hour after him.
Buser, who held a comfortable lead for the first half the race, is suddenly the rabbit being chased by a pack of faster greyhounds. His bold strategy, that initially dumbfounded so many mushers and analysts, seems to be showing signs of falling apart.
It’s unclear at this point whether Buser’s dropped dogs at Eagle Island is the result of the slough water he gave his dogs in Iditarod. Reporting from Anvik, Joe Runyon explains what happened.
Martin admits to making a mistake in Iditarod. After 26 Iditarods, he knew that slough water from Iditarod was not good to mix with the ration. Normally everyone melts snow water. But volunteers had punched a hole in the ice and transported water by bucket for the mushers. Even some of our camera guys observed that the water had that brown, partly decayed, look of stagnant water. Martin took advantage of the water but realized up the trail that it had affected his dogs. He suspected that other mushers staying in Iditarod may have the same problem. He is feeding dry dog food and thinks that the dogs will tighten up, but one can imagine the damage to the pack if other mushers used the water.
So far, it doesn’t seem like the other mushers’ dogs were affected. It would be a shame if Buser’s daring plan unraveled because of a rookie mistake.
At this rate, Zirkle or Seavey could catch and pass Buser before the Bering Sea Coast, as well as the next group of mushers who are only several miles behind them. (The exception is Jessie Royer, who must take her 8-hour break in Kaltag.) These mushers are showing no signs of fading. Mitch Seavey’s consistent speeds have been especially impressive. He has some of the fastest times between checkpoints, as does the rookie Ulsom.
Even by the coast, we may not have a clear frontrunner as mushers take turns leapfrogging past one another. We may even see a fast musher such as Lance Mackey, who is currently 7 miles out of Eagle Island, or Dallas Seavey, who is resting in Eagle Island, make their move before the coast.
The race could be shaping up to an exciting finish. Stay tuned.