Bulgaria sea coast

Brent Sass keeps Iditarod leading the Bering Sea coast as Dallas Seavey tries to close the gap


Dallas Seavey after arriving at the Unalakleet checkpoint on Sunday. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

UNALAKLEET – Mushers Brent Sass and Dallas Seavey arrived at the checkpoint here on Saturday night into Sunday morning, setting up a showdown between the top two teams as they head towards Nome.

Sass and his team of 12 dogs wearing jackets arrived first at 11:32 p.m. to cheers, stopping for just six minutes.

Brass won an ounce of gold nuggets for his first place finish.

During the brief stoppage, Sass doubled down on its pledge not to get dragged into the competition by other teams. He acknowledged throughout this year’s race that he had made that mistake in the past, and now sports a tattoo on his forearm that reads, “Run your own race.”

A tattoo says: Run Your Own Race
At the Cripple checkpoint, Brent Sass shows off a tattooed mantra on his forearm to remind him not to get caught up in his competitors’ tactics. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

“The dogs look good and I feel good, and we will continue to run our race,” he told a crowd of a dozen cheering spectators, as he prepared to withdraw his dog’s snow hook covered in ice. court.

Sass and his 12 dogs raced to the arid coast at 11:38 p.m., just 250 miles from the finish.

Sass has held the lead at all checkpoints since the halfway mark at Cripple, where he and Seavey took their 24-hour breaks.

Seavey is on course for a record sixth Iditarod win. Sass runs for his first. Sass placed third in last year’s Iditarod and fourth in 2020.

Just under two hours after Sass ran away from Unalakleet on Saturday night, Seavey and his 10 dogs arrived.

He stopped to rest at 1:22 a.m. Sunday.

In the dog yard, in the early morning darkness, Seavey was confident and calculated after feeding his dogs. But he acknowledged he faced challenges in this year’s race. His dogs fell ill during the first half and he had to give up several of his leaders due to injuries.

“Murphy’s Law is like a lost little puppy that follows me everywhere,” he said. ” It’s a little embarrassing. Other than that, we have fun. »

A man in black wearing a headlamp feeds his dogs
Dallas Seavey feeds his dogs Sunday morning after arriving in Unalakleet. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

[Check out more of our Iditarod coverage here and sign up four our new daily Iditarod newsletter here.]

Seavey led out of the Unalakleet checkpoint in just one of their wins, in 2015. (Last year teams went on a loop course due to COVID-19 and did not go into the community.)

Sass has driven in Unalakleet before, but he never got out.

Compared to Seavey, Sass’ team generally ran at slower speeds and reduced his rest time, which he said he trained his dogs for.

He lost about 20 minutes from his lead over Seavey as he raced over the Nulato Hills to the Bering Sea coast, resting in the Old Woman hut by the side of the trail at the top of the pass outside from the checkpoint.

Seavey, meanwhile, said he added an hour of rest to his stops in the first half of the race to help his dogs recover from a stomach ache. The disease made them less voracious than usual and gave them diarrhoea. He also let some of them rest in his tow sled, but ended up dropping some of those dogs after they injured themselves.

That left him with a few newcomers in mind – Pecos and Titan – which he jokingly called “Dumb and Dumber”. He said Pecos, a veteran of last year’s Iditarod, had matured this year but was still struggling to find the trail on the icy Unalakleet River.

“He just watches the birds in the sky and runs right to the end of the trail,” Seavey said. “I’m like, ‘Man, be careful!’

RELATED: Alaskan musher Dallas Seavey is set to become the best in Iditarod history

A team of dogs running on the snow at night
The Dallas Seavey team arrives at Unalakleet around 1:20 a.m. Sunday. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Seavey did not elaborate on his racing strategy going forward, but said he was playing to his team’s strengths to prepare for the finish. He said it was easy to get dragged into catching up with other teams — for example, running a 100-mile race — to exhaust the dogs.

“White Mountain is not the finish, the finish is the finish,” he said, referring to the checkpoint 77 miles from Nome where teams must rest for eight hours.

Seavey said he got some scattered information about Sass’s whereabouts throughout the run, watching straw — a sign of resting dogs ahead of him — and talking to snowmobilers traveling the trail.

After a 3 hour and 16 minute break, Seavey ran after Sass at 5:38.

The next closest team, led by Aaron Burmeister, arrived at Unalakleet at 10.04am.

A team of dogs outside
Aaron Burmeister and his nine dogs race to Unalakleet in third place at 10.04am on Sunday. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

“I gave up on chasing those guys,” he said of Sass and Seavey. “They’re at record pace, but when you push so hard in those kinds of conditions with what we’ve been through in this race, the engines start blowing the seals, so if they can hold up they have more power.”

Around 3:30 p.m., Sass was resting around mile 787 and Seavey was resting around mile 771, according to the tracker.

Burmeister and Richie Diehl were on the track behind them. Jessie Holmes, Dan Kaduce and Mille Porsild were stopped at Unalakleet, with the rest of the teams stretching from there to race mile 460 en route to Ruby.

RELATED: Hugh Neff scratches Iditarod halfwayat ththe race