Many of you have asked so I thought I’d clarify the situation with DeeDee’s dogs. Each musher starts the Iditarod with a team of 16 dogs. Each team is required to finish with at least 6 dogs running. Each team must take one 24 hour stop and two 8 hour stops, for the benefit of resting their dogs. A musher may decide to rest any dog at any time by bringing them onto their sled. A musher may also “drop” a dog at any checkpoint. This means that the dog is left in the care of vets etc and will no longer continue the race. This is usually done because a dog is tired or hurt. Toward the end a musher may optimize by dropping dogs to have a smaller team of fresher dogs. The strategy of which dogs to take, when to rest dogs, when to feed them, when to drop dogs, etc is a crucial part of winning the race. In a real way they are the athletes.
All dogs are examined by vets at each checkpoint. The race committee may tell a musher to drop a dog if they feel it should not continue. The race committee can also withdraw an entire team from the race if they feel this is warranted. This has happened with one musher in this year’s Iditarod, but I think it was because the musher was hurt, not his team.
Currently DeeDee has 12 dogs left running, which means she has decided to drop 4 dogs. Three were dropped right near the start at the third checkpoint, there was some kind of accident when she got lost and left the trail. The dogs are okay but she decided to continue without them. I read one of them was her oldest lead dog, so that was an early blow. She dropped another dog at the most recent checkpoint, don’t know why but probably because it was tired.
Left: The Northern lights highlight the trail
All of the top teams have dropped at least one dog, most more than one. Defending champion Lance Mackey is running 5th, but has only 9 dogs left.
Of course deciding how hard to run is important too. It is a nine day race, going out too fast too early will cost you. Some mushers hold a steady pace, others run harder but rest more often. In the last leg from Shageluk to Anvik DeeDee posted the fastest time of all the leaders. DeeDee is still in 10th, resting at Anvik before the long trek up the Yukon river. She is 4½ hours behind the leader. Go DeeDee!
[ all episodes ]
PS some of you have asked, how do I know anything about sled dog racing? The answer is: I don’t! After meeting DeeDee I poked around the Internet and have learned as much as I can and am following the Iditarod with great interest. It reminds me a lot of another tremendous athletic event I follow, the Tour de France. In each there is a long way to go and a whole team is required to win, and there’s a lot of strategy involved in deciding what to do when :)