WASILLA -- Organizers of the Iron Dog 2000 were planning to reroute the race this year to keep it off the Iditarod Trail as racers head for the Alaska Range. But the proposed route proved impassable, even for the racing machines.
For years, mushers have complained that powerful snowmachines bouncing and pounding their way into the Alaska Range two weeks before the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race leave a cratered moonscape in their wake.
A new race route through the Alaska Range was proposed.
But what appeared feasible on a map was quite different on the ground, said Iron Dog 2000 trail breaker and defending race champion Ken Lee of Eagle River.
''It was nasty,'' Lee said.
He and riding partner Tracy Brassard of Anchorage managed to battle their way over the route, but it wasn't pretty.
''It was unbelievable how fast that trail fell in behind us,'' he said. ''You couldn't get 80 sleds up there.
''We've been to Rainy Pass four times this year breaking trail,'' Lee said. ''We tried to break a new trail from Rainy down into Portage Creek, and it was opening up on us. There were 20-foot-deep holes.''
The more traffic the trail got, the more holes that opened, Lee said.
So the 32 Iron Dog teams are be back on the sled dog trail this year with everyone expressing a new appreciation for the old-timers who blazed the original route north more than 100 years ago.
The Iditarod Trail from Finger Lake down into the Happy River Gorge and up to Puntilla Lake at the south end of Rainy Pass might be notoriously nasty, but it's not nearly as bad as the alternatives.
North of Finger Lake, Lee said, the countryside is littered with huge patches of blow-down timber. Snowmobilers, Lee said, were able to weave a slalom course through the maze.
But dog teams don't do slalom well. The Iditarod, Lee said, is going to have do some serious chainsaw work before the March 2 start.
Iditarod trail breakers are in the area now. The plan, according to Iditarod president Rick Koch, is to clear the trail and groom it from Finger Lake to Puntilla.
Since January, Iditarod trail breakers have been testing new grooming equipment they can tow along the trial behind eight snowmobiles donated to the race by an Anchorage dealer.
Koch has his fingers crossed this could solve trail problems.
On the first day of racing at the Iron Dog, Anchorage's Marc McKenna and Eagle River's Eric Quam were in the lead as of 9 p.m. Sunday night. The two had checked into McGrath at 7:55 p.m. Sunday, five minutes ahead of Anchorage's Tyson Johnson and Eagle River's Chris Olds.
McGrath is only 341 miles into the 1,838-mile race, so the race is still wide open and many Kenai Peninsula racers are still in the mix.
Kenai's Doug Brewer and Seward's James Dick were in third place, Kenai's Mark Carr and Eagle River's Korey Cronquist were in fourth place, Kasilof's Dusty Van Meter a\nd Wasilla's Todd Palin were in fifth place, Soldotna's Scott Davis and Minnesota's Kirk Hibbert were in sixth place, Soldotna's Rick Bailey and Steve Sholin were in 11th place and Kenai's Jackie McGahan and Wasilla's Dwayne Drake were in 16th place.
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