Good morning and welcome to Iditarod central!
We've reached the "middle" of the race, day 3, and despite the great mushing conditions there has been a gradual decanting. You can now see the teams which are in it to win - probably about 20 left - and those which are in it to finish - everyone else.
[left - mushing into Nikolai]
At this point it becomes a little tough to see who's where because of the 24-hour rests. Everyone has to take a 24-hour rest at a checkpoint, and some mushers do it "early" at Nikolai or McGrath, many/most do it at Takotna, and some do it "late" at Ophir or even Cripple. A lot of strategy in this, and it makes the teams hard to compare.
[right - Wade Mars into Nikolai, taking his "24"]
The strongest teams seem to be defending champion Dallas Seavey (late 24), his four-time champion father, Mitch Seavey (middle 24), Wade Mars (early 24), Noah Burmeister, who is driving his brother Aaron's team this year, Brent Sass, Nicholas Petit, Aliy Zirkle, and the other "usual suspects". No surprises so far.
[left - Aliy Zirkle + team into Nikolai]
Also complicating efforts to figure out what's going on: many mushers take breaks outside the checkpoints, which is nice and quiet for their team (and for them), and which hides the amount of rest they've already had. In a few days those rests will tell, and some teams will be going 12mph while others go 8mph.
[right - the dogyard in Nikolai, open for business]
Another interesting development is that many teams now have a "caboose", a little sled behind the main sled which allows the musher to rest dogs. For years mushers have rested dogs on their sled (up to 2), now they can rest two more in the caboose. Dallas Seavey is a practitioner, you can see his sled setup in the picture at left.
[Dallas Seavey and team leaving Nikolai ... at high speed]
Teams like Mitch Seavey's shown at right which have been running some doges while resting others are probably [a little] slower but [a lot] fresher than team which are running all their dogs. This is hard to see now - it looks like the team is just running more and resting less - but it will definitely show up later.
[right - team Mitch Seavey taking a break]
The Iditarod is an important part of the traditions in central Alaska; the little towns along the route each celebrate the race coming through in their own way. Many have special awards for the first or last musher to come through.
[left - Dallas Seavey accepts the award for the first musher to reach McGrath]
According to the reports the trail is in great shape, with plenty of snow covering the ground, but not too much fresh snow to make breaking the trail necessary. And not too much ice - so far...
[right - Noah Burmeister quietly mushing along into McGrath]
Onward ... after tomorrow all the teams will be through or well into their 24s, and I'll probably have to start posting twice a day to take in all the action.
[left - Aliy Zirkle + team flying into Takotna]
Below is the situation at 7:49 this morning (Alaska time) ... please click to enbiggen. You can see some of the leading teams have left Ophir and are headed up to Cripple, where they'll take their 24. Others have stopped in Ophir, still others have stopped in McGrath or Nikolai, and there are plenty of others along the trail. Quite a story yet to be told in the days ahead...