Dent drives his team on, moving ahead of 8 in pack

Baltimorean reaches Unalakleet

269 miles to go


March 17, 2000|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Somewhere in the frozen Alaskan darkness yesterday, Baltimore musher Dan Dent and his 15 huskies slipped past four more competitors and pulled into the Bering Sea town of Unalakleet in 61st place.

Dent still has 269 miles to go before he reaches the finish line in Nome. And 29 teams had already finished the 2000 Iditarod Trail race by the time Dent reached the seacoast a couple of hours after sunrise.

But at least he'd put a few more mushers between himself and last place. There were eight in all trailing him early yesterday. Seven are rookies like Dent. Four are women.

In a race blessed by relatively mild temperatures, Unalakleet was the only stop along the trail that has thrown any serious Alaskan weather at this year's mushers. Several of the early finishers were pinned down there for a time by high winds.

Yesterday's report said the high there was 25 degrees, with cloudy skies and winds from the east at 25 mph, producing a wind chill of minus-13 degrees. The forecast called for more of the same today, plus snow.

Traditionally, the portion of the Iditarod Trail that hugs the Bering Sea coast has produced the most brutal and troublesome weather conditions for the mushers.

High winds, snowstorms and bitter cold have frequently forced teams to hunker down and wait for a break before dashing to the next checkpoint.

From Unalakleet, the trail heads north, following a snowmobile trail through 25 miles of woods and exposed ridge tops.

There's a climb to the 1,000-foot summit of the Blueberry Hills, then a descent back to the beach, and 12 more miles along the dunes to the checkpoint at Shaktoolik.

Shaktoolik consists of prefabricated houses lined up in two rows on a flat and featureless expanse of snow and ice on the Bering Sea coast. Only a massive snow fence protects the place from the fierce north wind.

Dent began his run to Unalakleet at 5: 20 p.m. Wednesday, leaving Kaltag just after Lynda Plettner, Trisha Kolegar, Melanie Gould, Karen Ramstead and Bill McKee.

Close behind them was Russian rookie Fedor Konyukhov.

Alaskan rookie Dave Tresino -- now in last place -- left Kaltag several hours later.

By 9: 18 a.m. yesterday, Dent was the only musher who had arrived in Unalakleet.

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