Not So Big Checkpoint!!
Nikolai ~ population not quite 100
Northbound Milepost 310
No Layover (LO) possible here….
75 Miles from Rohn <<<< 52 miles to McGrath >>>>
Last year’s split times ranged from 3 hours 17 minutes to 18 hours 24 minutes…….Why the BIG difference?
Wwwweeeellllll — In 2015, the lowest snow year in Iron Dog history, the fastest team from Rohn to Nikolai was throttled by Team #17 Hill/McKenna on Polevaulters in 3:17. By comparison – longest time posted, for crossing the same 75 miles was Team #22, Gravatt/Strobel on Grasshoppers in 18 hours 24 minutes. By the time Team #22 arrived in McGrath for their first LO, they had been on the course for an extraordinary 26 hours. The leaders of the pack had carded their first 14 hours LO and were back on the trail at 11:04 AM……two hours before Team #22 arrived in McGrath. Ouch#1
The Farewell Burn nicknamed because of a forest fire that changed the landscape of the trail many years ago is sandwiched between Rohn and Nikolai. The trail is a defined dirt path – dug out from years of use by machine and dog sled, the trail is usually ice bed mixed with a lot of dirt, light snow caught in the tussock troughs and downed trees. In 2015….some strategic and well-funded racers had DRY ICE and RV antifreeze waiting for them in Rohn….you might wonder why dry ice? A section of their seat foam was carved out to make room for ice and antifreeze slush in the hopes of cooling an overheated machine….sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t…..some racers said they would run for ¼ mile and park for 10 minutes….do this over and over for 75 miles and you can see why it was possible to take 18:24 minutes to cover this distance. Racers used a little ingenuity in hopes of outsmarting Mother Nature and gaining some miles between the other racing teams……for some it really worked and for others not so much. Ouch #2
There is definitely more snow this year. As long as the temperatures stay cooler than they have been in Anchorage, we’ll see times for the mid-and back-of-pack teams be less than last year for sure, but there will likely be a significant difference of time between the whole field……the trail from Rohn to McGrath is very remote, after a technical run on a steep and narrow descent from Hell’s Gate, to cross the typically open waters of the Kuskokiwim River – racers have to cross the barren and always bumpy trail from Rohn to Nikolai……a challenge for all…..racers are tired, damp from sweat, their hopes were to make it to McGrath on day one in 9-15 hours —- if it takes them longer than 10 — fatigue sets in, dehydration, sleep deprivation is catching them as many of them have been up since the night before with race day jitters and last minute fixes…..racers are in serious need of a hot meal and a mental break …. McGrath is miles away…..Ouch #3
The little lights of Nikolai show up in the darkness ,,,,,a small glimmer of respite, the friendly smile of the checker will do the team wonders with a small mental break, maybe a little mug up to warm the core and they’re back on the sleds that brought them and head up the trail, just 52 more miles to McGrath, although a plan to follow the trail can be mighty confusing here in Nikolai….. racer beware…..there are many trails to follow…..wood cutting, trapping and playing in the wilderness creates many turns here……Picking the wrong trail could mean the Big Difference between 59 minutes and 2 hours plus ……Ouch #4 ~ HLF, Iron Maiden, Den Mother