December 5, 2021

Eye on the Jr: Mid-race Update

The mushers camped in the woods along the Yentna River at the Yentna Station Roadhouse.  For years now, the checkpoint has been hosted by the Gabryszak Family.  As the teams arrive, their arrival time is recorded, mandatory equipment is checked, dogs are checked and then they park on the wooded trails along the river. 

In no time at all, booties are off, straw is down and water is heating.  The mushers quickly become gourmet chefs, preparing a first course of soupy broth then a hearty meal for the canine athletes.  Next they’ll tend to paws and massage shoulders and triceps.  The dogs will curl up for a nap and enjoy the cool weather the night offers.  Sounds like a first class spa!

Once the dogs are cared for the mushers heat up their own supper, which is likely a favorite food that’s been pre-cooked, sealed in seal-a-meal plastic and frozen to be easily re-heated by simply dropping it into hot water. 

The first musher to arrive at Yentna, Morgan Martens, has the responsibility of starting the campfire for all mushers to gather around through the night.  This is a tradition of Jr. Iditarod that mushers really enjoy and appreciate the time to talk with old friends and build new friendships.

Ava Moore Smyth in bib #2 led all teams out of the start chute and across Knik Lake.  Soon James Shawcroft in bib #3 took over the lead.  At the same time, Morgan Martins in bib #6 began working his way to the front of the pack and eventually took over the lead.  Kristal Hanson in bib #10 advanced from the back of the pack to follow Martens into Eagle Quest and all the way to Yentna.

Martins checked into Yentna at 19:16, setting a fast pace from Eagle Quest of 8.65 mph.  Kristal Hanson Followed at 20:09, running at 7.5 mph.  Four mushers arrived in 18 minutes beginning at 20:30 – Anna Coke, Hannah Wappett, Cassidy Meyer and Jace Cogdill.  Ellen Redington, James Shawcroft and Jessica Dixon arrived during the 2100-hour.  Ava Moore Smyth made Yentna at 22:57.

The mushers stayed at Yentna for the ten-hour required layover plus the start differential applied for the interval start.  Jace Cogdill wearing bib #11 had a layover of 10 hours while Ava More Smyth in bib #2 had 18 minutes added to the required 10 hours.  Most of the teams headed off to the finish in Big Lake well before the sun rise at 8:13.  The temperature was in the single digits above zero with a wind from the WNW at 13.  The high for the day will reach the upper teens and winds will likely increase.  No snow is in the forecast.  With these temperatures the trail should have set up nicely over night.

Morgan Martens with his Ryan Redington dogs led by Henry will be eligible to depart Yentna at 05:26.  Krystal Hanson, the current Willow Jr. 100 Champion can leave at 06:11.  A quartet led by Anna Coke and her Klejka dogs with Radar in lead will depart beginning at 06:38.  Then Hannah Wappett and leaders Ray and Vangie can take the trail at 06:47, Jace Cogdill and Quaser can depart at 06:48 followed closely by Cassidy Meyer and Amelia at 06:51.

The back of the pack mushers will depart Yentna over a two hour period beginning with Ellen Redington and North at 07:19 followed by James Shawcroft with Burlap and Parlay at 07:47 then Jessica Dixon with her blue eyed leader Bo at 08:06.  Eva Moore Smyth will depart the halfway checkpoint behind her leader Jasper shortly after 0900 in the Red Lantern position.

As the teams progress toward the finish line, their speed is impressive.  The trio of Martens, Hanson and Coke has a five-mile lead over the rest of the pack.  The front running teams have just passed through Eagle Quest Checkpoint inbound.  With 30 miles to the finish and a fast trail, the contest for Jr. Iditarod Gold promises to be a tight one!