There was less than two hours separating the first musher and the final musher coming into the half-way checkpoint at Yentna Station Roadhouse. Defending champion, Kevin Harper led the charge to Yentna arriving at 1641, five minutes ahead of Andrew Nolan. Rounding out the first trio of incoming mushers was Bailey Schaeffer. She arrived at exactly 1700.
The racers will stay here for a ten-hour layover plus starting differential before heading back to the Willow finish line. Adding ten hours to Kevin Harper’s arrival time and 8 minutes for his start position puts him back on the trail at 0249 followed by Andrew Nolan at 0258 and Bailey at 0318.
There’s a twenty-seven minute break before the next group of mushers returns to the trail led by Joan Klejka. She’ll be followed closely by Dakota Schlosser, Chandler Wappett and Denver Kay Evans. Those four teams arrived within two minutes of each other. All four were parked in the sled check area at the same time before being parked on the trails in the nearby woods.
Talking with one of the race judges, he says there wasn’t any resistance on the trail, it was smooth and fast. The first musher in covered the 75 mile distance in 6 hours and 29 minutes. While the temperatures were warm, there was very little direct sun so heat wasn’t a factor. Sled dogs are very good at governing themselves in warmer conditions and then as the sun slips down toward the horizon and the temperature cooled down, the dogs have a lot of energy. The mushers were tuned intensely to their dogs. Most planned to snack with fish because of the high moisture content for hydration.
The dog teams were very spunky as they climbed off the river into the checkpoint. Several teams had a hard time making the turn off the river because the dogs simply wanted to keep on going.
The final trio to depart from the checkpoint will depart between 0427 and 0436. Marianna Mallory will be joined by Rose Capistrant and Katie Deits.
Race Marshall Danny Seavey was very pleased with the mushers and how they controlled their speed during the run today. All teams completed the first half of the race within a 1 hour and 42 minute range. Seavey says the kids paced their teams very well on the 75 mile run. If today is any indication of how tomorrow will go, it may prove to be one of the earliest race completions ever.
Going out on a bit of a limb here but with the teams leaving so early in the morning, with the trail being fast and the dogs being rested I believe the winner will make Willow well before 1000 hrs.
Check the race stats at jriditarod.com.