Aklestad/Olstad lead Iron Dog to halfway point in Nome
By Peter Loewi
Heavy, wet snow and strong winds didn’t stop Tyler Aklestad and Nick Olstad from storming into town at 2:17 p.m. on Monday, leading the Iron Dog 2022 Pro Class to the Halfway Point in Nome.
Despite low visibility and high winds, fans still lined the road, doing their best to hold onto welcome signs. Overflow and dangerous ice conditions forced race officials to move the finish line from Subway to just East of town. A balloon arch had been planned, but hasn’t safe in the stormy conditions, either.
All that was audible through the wind when asking the racers about the trail was “white out.”
Not only was Team 7 first off the ice, but they were in first place, too, completing the first 1,015 miles of the 2,645-mile race in 22:07:50 with 28 hours of layover. Next off the ice were defending champions, Team 6, Brad George and Robby Schachle, arriving in Nome about half an hour later. With a time of 24:40:26 and only 26 hours of layover, they sat in sixth place.
Nome’s own Mike Morgan and teammate Chris Olds, Team 10, were in third place, and came off the ice together with fellow Nome racers Evan and Steffen Booth, Team 24. The Booths raced differently than most teams, arriving in Nome having used only 20 hours of layover time. Team 23, Nome’s Jarvis and Jordan Miller, also used only 25 hours of layover, and arrived in town to signs of “10 23 24 NOME.”
The Booths were 17th place, and the Millers were in 11th place.
During wrench time at the Public Works Garage on Tuesday, all three local teams were cheery, despite the warm and conditions. Asked how the trail was, Jordan Miller just smiled: “Rough.” Steffen Booth, looking tired, said that the first 1,000 miles of his first Iron Dog were fun.
As race officials looked on, Mike Morgan and Chris Olds, supported by Evan Booth and Casey Boylan, took apart and fixed up their machines. “Four and a half minutes of work after 1,000 miles, couldn’t ask to be in a better spot,” he said, hands still covered in grease, afterwards.
The first team to scratch was Nome resident Cody Moen and his partner Chad Gueco, who had issues almost immediately after the start. The tracker shows them stop less than an hour into the course, head back to the start to try to fix it, and restart around 7 p.m. They overnighted in Skwentna, before officially scratching Sunday before noon. In a social media post, they wrote that they “had multiple issues that held us from pushing on which ultimately forced us to scratch out of the 2022 Iron Dog, we tried to persevere but eventually had to call it, not from lack of effort to say the least.”
The drama wasn’t limited to the Pro Class, however. Team 52, consisting of Dianna Blakley, Jim Blakely and Steve Pechola in the Expedition Class got stuck in overflow crossing Golovnin Bay, and Search and Rescue was called to recover their sleds. White Mountain’s Dan Harrelson said those same strong southeast winds blew water into the bay, and with the tides, created several feet of overflow. The weight of the water can break the ice, creating what he described as black holes. “These folks were sure lucky they stayed on top of the ice,” he said.
After the tide subsided, one of the racers was able to walk across the slush to get help. Harrelson said that White Mountain Fire Chief Jack Adams spearheaded the rescue, involving 10 volunteers from White Mountain and two from Golovin . There was so much overflow they had to paddle out in a canoe, he said, and back powered the stuck snowmachines out with about 400 feet of rope. The GPS trackers show them stop moving around 3 p.m. Monday afternoon. All 12 rescuers made it home safely by 9 p.m. Monday night.
The racers were able to get their machines running again and planned an attempt to make it to Nome on Tuesday afternoon.
Harrelson suggested to the race marshals that they recommend racers heading back take the overland trail. While being about a mile or two longer, it much safer, he said. Race officials said they hadn’t made an official decision on the matter for the Pro Class leaving Nome, but said that if there was water, racers would be routed around it.