APRN Alaska News
More than half of all homes in Alaska were built in the 1970s and ‘80s.
That’s according to an Alaska Housing Finance Corp. report released last year that highlighted the need for improvements to the state’s aging housing stock.
AHFC offers a variety of loan and rebate programs aimed at home renovations and energy efficiency upgrades. Corporation officials were in Juneau over the weekend to talk about some of those programs at the Southeast Alaska Building Industry Association’s Home and Outdoor Living Expo.
Amelia Harmon just moved to Juneau from Michigan and is considering buying her first home. She’s been looking online to get a sense of the market before she starts to shop for real.
“A lot of them look like they need some work, but that’s just from the outside,” she says of the homes she’s seen thus far. “I don’t know what they look like on the inside. I don’t like to judge a book by its cover.”
Harmon and her mom came to the Juneau Home and Outdoor Living Expo to get a better idea of what’s available. She says she wants something not too pricy, but also doesn’t want to put a lot of money into a fixer upper.
“Not a home that needs too much renovations and have to put more work into it than what you paid for,” she says.
Harmon stops at the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. booth, where there’s big sign with a floral print couch on it that says, “The 70s called. They want their house back.”
Jan Miyagishima, director of mortgage operations at AHFC, says most homes in Alaska are in the 35-year and older range.
“Doesn’t sound like it’s really old if you compare it to the East Coast. But the homes are getting dated,” Miyagishima says. “If you don’t keep up your home, it will decrease in value.”
Alaska Housing offers three renovation loan programs. Homeowners can get up to $312,750 in remodeling financed by having a full appraisal done on their property. Those looking to refinance their mortgages can qualify for a package that allows them to recoup money spent on improvements over the previous year and get an additional loan up to $50,000. Finally, there’s a purchase renovation loan that allows buyers to pay for up to $50,000 worth of upgrades through their mortgage loan.
Miyagishima says all three programs require a bid from a qualified contractor for the work to be done.
“This is allowing people to get the kitchen that they want, the bathroom upgrades,” she says.
AHFC does not actually loan money itself. Instead, it works with lenders like banks and credit unions to offer home financing to Alaskans. The state-backed corporation is like Fannie Mae orFreddie Mac, in that it buys loans from these lenders, and packages them into mortgage-backed securities that are sold to private investors.
Alaska Housing also operates the state’s home energy rebate programs, which can be used in conjunction with any of its renovation loans. These programs allow homeowners to get an energy rating to identify any issues. The rebate helps pay for the cost of improvements.
“The average rebate’s right around $7,000,” says Jimmy Ord, AHFC energy programs manager.
“Most Alaskans put in somewhere around $12,000,” he says. “So there’s a good investment from the homeowner and the state in the project.”
Alaska Housing also offers energy rebates for new home construction. But in recent years, Ord says the state has averaged fewer than 2,000 new homes per year. That’s why the heavy push to improve existing housing.
“Most of the infrastructure is already in place, so we have to look at how we’re going to move that infrastructure into the next generation,” he says.
Harmon, the potential home buyer looking to lay down roots in Juneau, says right now she’s more concerned about finding the right price than she is with renovations.
“It’s more expensive up here than where I’m from down in the lower 48,” she says. “But Michigan doesn’t have the views and the stuff that Alaska has to offer.”
And she says it’s good to know that options are available should she need upgrades for whatever home she decides to buy.
Dallas Seavey crossed under the burled arch in Nome at 4:13 a..m. Wednesday, securing his second-consecutive Iditarod win and his third four years.
He finished the race in 8 days, 18 hours, 13 minutes and 6 seconds.
Seavey made the 22 mile run from Safety, the Iditarod’s final stop before the finish line in Nome, in three hours.
He finished the race with 10 dogs.
Dallas’ father, Mitch Seavey, is running in second place, approaching Safety.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
The top teams have left White Mountain and they are on their way to the Iditarod finish line in Nome. Spectators are unlikely to see a major shakeup in the front end of the field, but this year’s race is likely to end with career bests for many of the teams up front.
As Tuesday progressed in White Mountain, it became clear that Dallas Seavey was the likely winner of this year’s Iditarod.
“I’m starting to think there’s a chance we could do this,” he said.
Seavey has won the race twice before, but this year, he has says he’s had more fun than ever driving his team.
“You know we’re having a blast out here, we’re just musing,” he said.
Seavey left White Mountain with a four hour lead on another Seavey – his father, Mitch. Race officials joked that Dallas ought to stick around for a few extra hours and race Mitch in to Nome.
“No, I have too much respect for my competitors to do any showboating like that,” Dallas said. “I’m going to take every minute of my lead. If the wind starts blowing or if I end up having to carry ten of eleven dogs, this race, we’re so used to things going well, that we thing ‘oh that will never happen,’ it does happen.”
When he pulled into the checkpoint, Mitch Seavey said it’s been a long-time dream to see his family dominate the Iditarod leader board
“Well of course our dream finish would be one-two, with me in front of course,” Mitch said. “I thought it was agreed upon by the whole family. I just didn’t know how that would work out.…nah, it’s a great day, we’ll see how it all pans out. We still have to make it to the finish line.”
Both Mitch and Dallas Seavey are very competitive men, with extremely fast dog teams. The older Seavey knows better than to try and catch his son.
“That’s another thing about running tired dog teams,” Mitch said. “You don’t want to upset the apple cart. You just move along at whatever they are comfortable with and don’t let them fall asleep on you, but you can’t start whooping it up and going rodeo style, because you might not even make it.”
Seavey says it’s unlikely Aaron Burmeister can make up enough time to overtake his team. Even so, Burmeister remains hopeful.
“Well that’s a possibility,” Burmeister said. “That’s kind of the goal to be able to catch Mitch and I have no idea where Jessie is behind me.”
Jessie Royer arrived for her eight-hour layover less than two hours behind Burmeister, but she says the last few runs up the coast have taken a lot of energy out of her dog team.
“He’s mentioned before, I’m one person he does not want behind him at want mountain, because I have caught him a lot of times,” she said.
Royer says she tried to catch up, but she is also realistic about what her dog team can do in the next 70 miles.
“If I had caught like hour on him coming here, and all I had left was an hour on the way to Nome, sure,” she said. “But I’m not going to catch two hours on the way to Nome.”
The top few teams are likely to finish in the order they arrived in White Mountain, making for a less dramatic race in comparison to previous years, but they all know the race isn’t over until their dog teams pass under the burled arch.
After completing the mandatory 8-hour layover in White Mountain, Dallas Seavey left the checkpoint at 6:10 p.m. Tuesday on his way to Safety – the final stop before mushers cross the Iditarod finish line in Nome.
As of 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, he is the only musher to leave White Mountain.
Dallas’ father, Mitch Seavey was the second to arrive in White Mountain, with Aaron Burmeister, Jessie Royer and Aliy Zirkle arriving later.
After failing to expand Medicaid through a budget item, Gov. Bill Walker is trying again. He has introduced a standalone bill that would allow the state to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion, while also offering
some reform measures.
When he was campaigning for governor, Bill Walker aggressively stumped on the issue of Medicaid expansion.
“There was never a time when we brought this up where there wasn’t instantaneous applause,” he said.”>>
Now that Walker is in office, getting the state to accept $146 million in federal funds to grow the pool of Medicaid recipients has been one of his top priorities.
First, Walker tried to secure the money through a line in the operating budget, but a House Finance subcommittee stripped that out. Then, Walker said the Legislature should consider an expansion bill by the House
Democratic Minority. That didn’t move. Next, he collaborated with a Republican senator on a reform bill, but the product offered did not include expansion. Now, Walker is doing something that legislators have
requested of him since the beginning of session.
“We have transmitted legislation for Medicaid expansion, Medicaid reform,” he said.
Walker made the announcement in the Capitol’s cabinet room, with two dozen supporters of Medicaid expansion behind him.
Right now, the state’s Medicaid program mostly covers low-income children and pregnant women. The nine-page bill makes it so that Alaskans with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $20,000 a year for a single adult — can get coverage, too. There are 42,000 Alaskans eligible for Medicaid expansion, with some covered by Indian Health Services but other falling into a gap where they’re required to get health insurance by law but ineligible for subsidies because they don’t make enough. The federal government would pay the total cost of expansion in the first year, and then ratchet that down to 90 percent in the year 2020. The Walker administration expects about 20,00 eligible Alaskans to enroll within a year of expansion.
But Walker stressed that his bill wasn’t just about providing health care
to more people.
“It is a catalyst for reform,” he said. “We heard a lot about reform, and reform has been ongoing. Reform is part of this legislation.”
When asked to elaborate on specific reform measures, Walker mostly deferred to his health commissioner and his budget director. Commissioner Valerie Davidson described the promotion of telemedicine to bring costs down, and
added that bill would allow Alaska to apply for waivers to increase their federal match for some health care costs.
One waiver would allow Indian Health Services beneficiaries to have care from tribal providers totally covered by the federal government.
“That allows us to realize a potential savings of between $80 and $150 million.”
Walker’s budget director, Pat Pitney, explained that the bill also starts the process of implementing a provider tax, where up to six percent medical services can be taxed as revenue for the state.
“The provider tax would bring in more than the corporate tax for health providers,” Pitney said.
That tax would need approval from the Legislature in a future session.
After rolling out the bill, the Walker administration gave the Medicaid supporters the microphone. They were wearing buttons that read “It’s the right thing to do,” and most came from various health and trade groups. The
Alaska Hospital and Nursing Association, the Alaska Mental Health Trust, and the National Education Association were all represented, and they talked about the good expansion would do for their organizations and the
people they service. But there were two people in attendance who would directly benefit from Medicaid.
Steven Grundstein, a 53-year-old Juneau man, stood at the podium and announced he had a terminal kidney disease and could need dialysis within months. He said he found himself in the health care gap, and that getting
help has been difficult.
”Everyone is passing you around like a football,” he said.
Grundstein added it was difficult watching the debate over expansion, as someone affected by it.
“In politics, things go bad. I’ve seen too many bills start out with really good intentions and then go horribly wrong. Let’s try not to let the horribly wrong happen here.”
Legislators were still processing the bill on Tuesday afternoon. But some key players, like Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, reacted favorably.
Kelly had offered his own reform bill, and he said he was glad to see legislation on the issue from the governor. He said some of the reforms in each could be complementary. But Kelly said that expansion remains a
sticking point for him.
”We’re going to disagree on expansion. That’s the big thing,” Kelly said.
Kelly added that he did not want to add people to a “broken system.”
Hearing on the governor’s Medicaid bill are expected to be held starting next week.
The federal government can once again continue processing H-2b visas, the program that traditionally allows foreign roe technicians to work in Alaska seafood plants.
Whether the visas would be available for the summer season was unclear after a court challenge in Florida. But the judge’s decision in that case is now on hold until mid-April. Dennis Phelan of the Pacific
Seafood Processors Association says that should be enough time to move this summer’s visas along. Phelan says Alaska’s 100-million-dollar roe industry depends on the H-2b visas.
“There’s probably only 100 of them that we’re bringing over, but it’s crucial employees because they are the representatives on the ground for the folks who are buying the product, in most cases Japanese companies,” Phelan said.
Phelan’s trade association represents nine companies with about 25 processing plants around Alaska. H2-B visas are intended for seasonal non-farm workers. To qualify, employers have to show they can’t fill the positions with U.S. workers. Last year, H2-bs for Alaska jobs were primarily for roe technicians, but several dozen also went to bolster the sales force at jewelry stores in Southeast Alaska that cater to cruise ship passengers. Phelan says his association is still trying to get the industry back in the J-1 visa program, which used to allow thousands of foreign students to come to Alaska to work in processing jobs.
Walker Introduces Medicaid Expansion Bill
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN-Juneau
After failing to expand Medicaid through a budget item, Gov. Bill Walker is trying again. On Tuesday, he introduced a standalone bill that would allow the state to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion, while also offering some reform measures.
Feds OK to Process Visas for Roe Technicians
Liz Ruskin, APRN-Washington
The federal government can once again continue processing H-2b visas, the program that traditionally allows foreign fish roe technicians to work in Alaska seafood plants.
Dallas Seavey First to White Mountain
Emily Schwing, APRN Contributor
Dallas Seavey was the first musher to arrive in White Mountain Tuesday morning. It’s the second to last stop along the Iditarod trail. Teams will take an eight-hour mandatory rest there, before they make the final push for Nome.
Premera Warns of Possible Data Breach
Lisa Phu, KTOO-Juneau
If you have a health insurance plan through Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, your personal information may be vulnerable to a data breach. According to Premera, about 650,000 Alaskans are among the 11 million people potentially affected by a cyberattack of the health insurance company. A Premera press release says attackers may have gained access to customers’ names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, mailing addresses and bank account information.
Iditabike Racers Reach Nome
Francesca Fenzi, KNOM-Nome
In Nome, onlookers welcomed the first racers off the Iditarod trail on Monday – but not for the iconic sled dog race, these racers had wheels.
Roe Herring Fishery Gets Two-Hour Notice
Rachel Waldholz, KCAW-Sitka
The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery will be on two-hour notice starting 10 a.m. Wednesday the Alaska Department of Fish & Game has announced.
Tribal Members Move Ahead Toward Unifying Region
Ben Matheson, KYUK-Bethel
Despite having no quorum and no vote, tribal members at the Calista-sponsored Yukon Kuskokwim Governance Convention on Monday decided to move ahead with an interim step toward unifying the regional politically.
Rupert Delegation Lobbying for Continued Connections
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska-Juneau
Prince Rupert leaders are in Juneau this week to lobby for continued connections with Southeast Alaska. Budget cuts threaten to reduce state ferry sailings to and from the British Columbia port city. And policy differences have blocked construction of a new ferry terminal there. Rupert Mayor Lee Brain says the marine highway link helps economies on both sides of the border.
UAF Rifle Team Falls Short at Championships
Dan Bross, KUAC
The University of Alaska Fairbanks fell just short of a national title at the NCAA Rifle Champions on their home turf over the weekend.
Weather Doesn’t Stop Emergency Responders from Training at Dutch Harbor
Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB-Unalaska
Chilly winds and whiteout conditions didn’t stop a team of emergency responders from mounting a unique exercise at the Port of Dutch Harbor on Friday.
Despite having no quorum and no vote, tribal members at the Calista-sponsored Yukon Kuskokwim Governance Convention on Monday decided to move ahead with an interim step toward unifying the regional politically. Leaders put the future of a proposed regional tribal government first in the hands of tribal councils and set a deadline of 30 days for them to vote. If successful, the proposal would then go before individual tribal
voters who would vote yes or no on it.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks fell just short of a national title at the NCAA Rifle Champions on their home turf over the weekend. For the second year running, the Nanooks placed second to West Virginia University. The margin of victory was just 2 shots, with UAF taking Friday’s small bore match at the Patty Center, and the Mountaineers coming back Saturday, with just enough in the air rifle competition to nab the overall title in the 8 team competition. West Virginia’s Maren Prediger was the top individual shooter. UAF’s Tim Sherry was best Nanook in 8th place.
Chilly winds and whiteout conditions didn’t stop a team of emergency responders from mounting a unique exercise at the Port of Dutch Harbor on Friday.
If you have a health insurance plan through Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, your personal information may be vulnerable to a data breach. According to Premera, about 650,000 Alaskans are among the 11 million people potentially affected by a cyberattack of the health insurance company.
A Premera press release says attackers may have gained access to customers’ names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, mailing addresses and bank account information.
Eric Earling is vice president of communications at Premera Blue Cross based in Washington.
“This is data going back to 2002, so this affects current and former members, in addition to other individuals and organizations with whom we may have done business,” he said.
Earling says Premera is the largest health plan in Alaska. It has about 110,000 current members in the state.
The health insurance company discovered the attack at the end of January and notified the FBI, which is now part of the investigation. Premera issued a press release about the cyberattack and notified employers and health brokers on Tuesday. It also plans on mailing letters to notify everyone potentially affected.
Premera’s offering two years of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services.
Customers can sign up at the website premeraupdate.com or by calling 1-800-768-5817.
In Nome, onlookers welcomed the first racers off the Iditarod trail on Monday – but not for the iconic sled dog race, these racers had wheels.
Jay Petervary, of Victor Idaho, and Jeff Oakley of Fairbanks, were the first to cross the burled arch in Nome on Monday night. But not for the race you might think.
Once called the “Iditasport Impossible,” the re-branded Iditarod Trail Invitational mirrors the 1000 mile sled dog race of the same name – with one major difference: These racers aren’t mushing a team of dogs – they’re
running, skiing or cycling across the finish line.
And, in some ways, man-power appears to have bested dog-power on the trail. The lack of snow, and icy trail conditions, that made the Southern Race Route impassable for dog teams this year actually benefited those tackling
the trail on wheels.
Cyclist John Lackey of Anchorage reached the half-way point in McGrath just 1 day, 18 hours, and 32 minutes into the race – a time four hours faster than the leading dog team on record.
Oately himself holds the current cycling record for the full course – an astonishing 10 days, 2 hours, and 53 minutes set in 2014. For comparison, if he’d been mushing a team of dogs, Oately would have placed 21st in last
year’s Iditarod race.
“You know, I just got lucky with that,” Oakley said. “That’s what it takes to do that kind of time. But this is the race that I wanted. I didn’t want to do a time trial to Nome last year. I wanted to go out and ride the Iditarod
trail. And this year we got that. I was a little bummed for the first 300 miles. I was like, ‘This used to be a winter race. But then I lived to regret saying that out loud.”
Indeed, Oately and Petervary ran into more than their share of winter after the halfway point. Petervary says the *real* weather kicked in just as the pair was leaving Tokotna.
“The trail just deteriorated from there, and speeds were slowing, and then it just dropped to negative 40 for about six nights straight,” Petervary said. And this is about the warmest day we’ve had since then.”*
After a grueling 15 days, 6 hours, and 29 minutes on the trail. Oately andPetervary pedaled under the burled arches just seconds apart – so perfectly in sync that even their fans couldn’t spot the winner.
When pressed about who actually won, Oately points to his friend and competitor.
“Jay did,” Oakley said.
“Nah. It was — everyone who comes underneath this arch actually wins in the end,” Petervary said.
Petervary adds that, much like with the 1000 mile sled dog race, arrival in Nome is never guaranteed. Since the Invitational started in 2000, only 52 individuals have ever made it across the finish line – 34 of them on bikes.
Sharing a hug – and a toast – over their two-wheeled sleds, the two cyclists have little difficulty pin-pointing their favorite moment on the trail.
“This one,” Oakley said.
“This was pretty cool,” Petervary said. “Last year I rode in and Phil’s wife was here, my wife was here. And that was it. And it’s like, ‘Here’s a Coke.’ And that was great. I really wanted a coke. But this is better… We kind of rolled up and you can see the lights and it’s like ‘Oh they’ve got the Christmas lights for us. That’s cool.’ And then it’s like ‘Holy —. There’s people here. What’s going on? There must be something going on in Nome today.’”*
Dallas Seavey was the first musher to arrive in White Mountain Tuesday morning. It’s the second to last stop along the Iditarod trail. Teams will take an eight-hour mandatory rest there, before the make the final push for Nome.
The church bell in White Mountain signaled Dallas Seavey’s arrival.
Seavey says he’s pleased with his run, but the defending champion says he’s not quite ready to credit his team with winning this year’s Iditarod.
“We’ve got so much on the line right now, so on the one hand I’m really excited to get to Nome, let’s just get this thing done with, get it in the bag, have it in the record books—you know? But on the other hand, I don’t
want this to end… This has been way too much fun with this dog team.”
Seavey has been in a chipper mood for most of the race. He says he’s never had as much fun driving a dog team, but he also says he’s worked for nearly half a decade to raise the kind of team he is driving this year.
“I mean coming in here today I was just looking at ‘em, up and down the team,” he said. “And every single one of those dogs is a super star. I mean I feel pretty privileged to be able to run with those guys.”
Seavey has won the Iditarod twice before. His dogs are known for their speed. He says his mushing style reflects their genetics.
“Speed is the name of the game for these guys, and most of the time I see people get good speed in their team they don’t hold onto it. They use it in the short term, and then they burn it up.” 00:14
But Seavey doesn’t like to run long, without giving his dogs some extra rest.
“So, you get ahead with the speed and then you give it back to them in rest. And that takes confidence in your dog team that they’ll get up and go fast again and again and again. They know if they go fast, I’ll give
them more rest… and I know if I give ‘em rest they’ll keep going fast, so you have to trust each other.”
The final 70-mile run to Nome is not nearly as long as other runs along the Iditarod trail, and Seavey is unlikely to lose his lead, but the Bering Sea Coast is known for dramatic changes in weather and dog teams have been
known to quit unexpectedly. Seavey is well aware that the final push to the finish line s sometimes the most dramatic.
The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery will be on two-hour notice starting 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game announced this Tuesday afternoon.
A test sample taken from a body of herring west of Black Rock showed about 7% mature roe, which is low for the commercial fishery. But the Department said that percentage could rise rapidly over the next few days as less
mature herring separate out from those ready to spawn.
Fish & Game also conducted an aerial survey of Sitka Sound Monday and reported herring predators concentrated in the areas west and south of Crow Island and Bieli Rock.
This year’s fishery is being conducted as a co-op in response to historically low prices for herring. As a result, Sitka is expecting a much smaller fleet than in recent years.
Fish & Game was expected to hold a meeting for permit-holders and processors at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Westmark Hotel in downtown Sitka. That meeting is open to the public
Prince Rupert leaders are in Juneau this week to lobby for continued connections with Southeast Alaska.
Budget cuts threaten to reduce state ferry sailings to and from the British Columbia port city. And policy differences have blocked construction of a new ferry terminal there.
Rupert Mayor Lee Brain says the marine highway link helps economies on both sides of the border.
“We see Prince Rupert as Canada’s gateway to Alaska,” he said. “This is the quickest way to get to Alaska. Most people don’t want to drive through the Yukon up to Alaska. So, we see this as a very important economic and partnership opportunity to continue on with this link.”
The Rupert delegation is meeting with Gov. Bill Walker and the House and Senate Transportation Committees.
The Prince Rupert mayor says Southeast Alaska should also pay attention to major construction projects planned for his city. They include container port expansion and plans for up to six liquefied natural gas plants.
“We don’t see it as just as a Prince Rupert opportunity. We see it as an opportunity for Alaska as well. That there might be an opportunity for trade and commerce and increased tourism.”
Brain spoke Tuesday at the Southeast Conference Mid-Session Summit.
Winter weather doesn’t stop Ellie Mitchell from hitting the road (or the trail) on her fat bike. She picked up cycling from her dad, and now she regularly competes against him and other cyclists in the Anchorage winter racing circuit.
Dallas Seavey – the winner of the 2014 Iditarod – is the first musher into White Mountain. He checked in at 10:10 Tuesday morning.
Mitch Seavey and Aaron Burmeister are running in second and third place, respectively.
Jessie Royer and Joar Leifseth Ulsom round out the top-5.
All mushers are required to take an 8-hour layover in White Mountain before continuing the last Safety and Nome.
White Mountain is 77 miles from the finish line in Nome.
Front running teams are making their way for White Mountain Tuesday morning.
Dallas Seavey left the Koyuk checkpoint in first place Monday afternoon. He said he was not concerned that he may have to break trail through fresh snow and heavily windblown drifts.
“When there’s wind the drifts keep coming, so you don’t have to worry about flattening them all,” Seavey said. “You know there will be more for the next person.”
Seavey may have gotten lucky on his way to Koyuk after rival Aaron Burmeister spent several hours breaking trail out of Shaktoolik. But Seavey says just because a team broke the trail in front of his, doesn’t mean his dogs had an easy time.
“I think Aaron had it easier honestly,” Seavey said. “What we had out here was s surface that had a little bit of a crust, and the first team that went through it, it held up two thirds of the doggy feet. Then the next team that goes through, there’s more holes and more teams are punching through.”
But Aaron Burmeister says the run was a game changer for his dog team.
“I never would have attempted that run knowing it was going to be snowing out,” he said. “I was expecting it to be windy, but it snowed six to eight inches in about four hours, dumped on the trail, created monster snow drifts and we ended up breaking trail through a white out.”
He says he had to switch his leaders out multiple times. He believes the run took enough energy out of his dogs, so that teams behind could take advantage. He says he’s not sure if he will maintain his second place standing all the way to Nome.
“I’m definitely looking over my shoulder right now, because that took a lot out of my dogs to get them here in this position,” Burmeister said.
Burmeister is running his fifth Iditarod. He has never run as far up front in any of his previous races. That’s the case for Jessie Royer as well.
“It’s kind of exciting because I have never been one of those teams before,” Royer said. “I’ve been top-10, but I have never been top five. It’s a nice team this year, I’m pretty happy with them. They are just doing a nice job.”
But Royer says she’ll be careful not to get too excited. She says there’s still a long way to go before Nome.
“There’s so many different situations you can run into,” she said. “I won’t be excited until Safety.”
Safety is the final checkpoint, 30 miles from the finish line. Before teams get there, they will take a mandatory eight-hour layover in White Mountain.
He was the first to reach Elim late last night, leading Aaron Burmeister by just over three hours. The two front-runners were followed into the checkpoint by Mitch Seavey, Jessie Royer and Aliy Zirkle.
In the final push for Nome, Iditarod mushers are making big moves and cutting rest, but fresh snow, and drifted trail isn’t only slowing the leaders – trail conditions have also slowed dog teams in chase mode.
When Aliy Zirkle pulled her dog team into Koyuk, she was in good spirits, but her dog team was lacking their usually energy.
Zirkle summed up the 50 mile run from Shaktoolik in one word: Slow.
“I didn’t walk, although my dogs did,” Zirkle said. “I jog on the treadmill faster than we were going.”
Overnight, at least four inches of fresh snow fell along the trail to Koyuk. Back in Unalakleet, Zirkle hinted that she planned to make a move. She wanted to blow through Shaktoolik in an attempt to catch Dallas Seavey, but she says the snow slowed her team and ruined her plan.
“This was my – what do you call that when you throw that long pass?” Zirkle said. “This was my Hail Mary and I think they other team caught it and scored a touch down.”
Zirkle says her team is unlikely to recover.
Schwing: “Are you still in this race?
Zirkle: “Oh no, I’m not in it for first, that’s for sure.”
Schwing: “What are you in it for?”
Zirkle: “I don’t know I’ll get back to you on that too.”
Jessie Royer, arrived roughly a half hour after Zirkle.
“This snow is horrible. I do not like this snow,” Royer said. “It is just – I mean it’s not setting up. The dogs just work so hard and they’re not getting anywhere.”
Royer made a big push to catch the front of the pack, but of the teams running in the top five, hers has rested the least number of hours since Kaltag.
“Oh, I’m a little low on rest, yeah, but they’re doing alright though,” she said. “They’re tired, but they’re not exhausted.”
Royer is also realistic about how the race is likely to play out ahead of her.
“Oh, you know, Dallas is pretty tough,” Royer said. “Something would have to happen to Dallas, because right now if you look at the times Dallas and I are running, he’s running faster than I am and he’s three hours ahead of me and that doesn’t look good unless something happens.”
“Of all people I should know that it’s not over till it’s over, after it went down last year,” Dallas Seavey said.
Last year, Seavey didn’t know he’d won the Iditarod until after he crossed the finish line. A fierce windstorm at the end of the race shook up teams at the front of the pack.
This year, Seavey is running a similar race schedule. He was able to grab four and a half hours of rest in Shaktoolik and run to Koyuk in just over seven hours.
“We got speed, that’s our thing,” Seavey said.
As he cut up frozen food for his dogs with his ax, he said he was well aware of the dramatics moves mushers were making behind him, but he also knows they are cutting rest to keep up.
“You can do runs like that, but then you’re in deep debt to your dog team, you owe them rest,” he said. “So as much as the other teams have been running hard to get here, I’ve been resting hard.”
In his attempt to take that lead, Aaron Burmeister tried to run 90 miles to Koyuk from Unalakleet on minimal rest, but it took his team more than 15-and-a-half hours to break the trail.
“I know he had a much easier run than I did coming over here, because he was following a trail, he didn’t have to tell his leaders ‘gee’ and ‘haw’ every five minutes going through the dark with the only thing you can see for the sign of a trail was a reflector,” he said.
Burmeister says it was a gamble, but he doesn’t regret the move. The trail report calls for more fresh snow and heavy drifting, He says he’s happy to hand over the trail breaking effort to rival Dallas Seavey.