Thursday, December 27, 2012

This morning in Tok

I went down to Tok yesterday for the start of the Top of the World 350.  I made it in time to check into the surprisingly comfortable hotel at Fast Eddy's (if you've traveled the Alaska Highway you've got a pretty good idea of what kind of accommodations to expect - not good.  But this was clean, functional, and pretty quiet), have a cheeseburger, and then head over to the Tok Dog Mushers Hall for the mushers meeting.

This was my first time in the Tok Dog Mushers Hall, and wow.  Pretty much anybody who's influenced sprint mushing has his or her name on the wall, with some classic photographs and past championship results.  While a disappointing number of mushers dropped out of the TOTW before the start (some due to health problems, some due to logistical complications, etc.) the field is still extremely impressive, from established stars like Lance Mackey to up-and-comers whose names you'll be hearing often over the next few years.  Special mention to Amanda Gecas, a young local musher who we've seen coming along in the Two Rivers Dog Mushers Association races and who left the yard in Tok looking like a seasoned pro.

The format is unusual and it's pretty clear from some of the comments on the race's Facebook page that there's still some confusion about how it's being run.  While the "start" was this morning, the run from Tok to Eagle Village is a fun run and does not figure into the race results at all (although it's factoring into some mushers' strategies).  Once the mushers arrive in Eagle Village there's going to be a potlatch and dance, and then the race itself is from Eagle back to Tok, and starts December 29th.  That said, pretty much everybody I talked with said that they were thinking they'd have a relaxed, slow run up because the other teams would start feeling competitive on the way up, let their dogs run, and be more tired during the actual race portion of the event.  Can't wait to see how that turns out.

The race organization is doing an impressive job, putting together a logistically complicated race (the road to Eagle closes in the winter) in a relatively short period of time, and rallying community support in Tok, Tanacross, along the Taylor Highway, and in Eagle Village.  They were able to get Mike McCowan as race marshall, and some expert media teams to cover the event as it happens despite its relatively remote location.

I've posted some video from this morning.  While it looks chaotic it actually wasn't; mushers got their dogs on the line on their own schedules and left when they were ready.  I'd been expecting a mass start along the lines of what you sometimes see in sprint mushing, when "mass start" really does mean that everybody leaves at the same time.  This was relatively mellow and had a happy vibe.  Here's the video:

I'll edit video from the mushers meeting and get that uploaded tomorrow.

Another note: the race is not being tracked, but Jake Berkowitz has a personal (i.e. not race) SPOT tracker on his sled and has it online, here.

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