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Alaska and Yukon Headlines
The Iditarod race trail along the Norton Sound coast is icy and hard. Glare, windswept ice will challenge teams already fatigued by more than 800 miles of racing. Although challenging for the drivers, the icy trail usually proves to be easy pulling and fast for the dogs.March 9, 2014
Aliy Zirkle maintained her lead in the 2014 Iditarod Sunday, leaving Shaktoolik about 7:12 a.m. She was fighting off challenges from former champions Jeff King and Martin Buser who followed her out of Shaktoolik on Sunday morning.
Behind King and Buser are Sonny Lindner, Aaron Burmeister and the 2012 champion, Dallas Seavey. That trio is also out of Shaktoolik.
Zirkle was racing with 11 dogs. King and Buser had 12 in their teams. Lindner had 13 dogs in his team. Burmeister had 10 and Dallas Seavey had nine.
Last year’s winner, Mitch Seavey, was in Shaktoolik on Sunday morning and in 7th place.
Abbie West continued to lead the rookie field. She was racing towards Unalakleet on Sunday morning.
Led by Aliy Zirkle, the frontrunners came speeding into Unalakleet Saturday afternoon. With no more guessing where mushers will take mandatory rest, the rest of the Iditarod will simply be a 265-mile race to the finish.March 9, 2014
Aliy Zirkle continued her lead over Martin Buser and Sonny Lindner Saturday night in the 2014 Iditarod. She arrived in Unalakleet first and left first.
Buser, Lindner, Jeff King and Aaron Burmeister were still in Unalakleet at 10:00 p.m. Zirkle and Buser were battling for the lead much of Saturday.
The race continued to take its toll on mushers and their teams. Nicolas Petit, who was racing near the front, scratched Saturday night just outside of Unalakleet. He told his officials he was concerned for the welfare of his dogs. Earlier in the day, Ramey Smyth scratched in Ruby saying that some of his dogs were sick.
Mitch Seavey, the 2013 champion, was on the outskirts of Unalakleet Saturday night about 10:15.
Abbie West continued to lead the rookie field. She was out of Kaltag Saturday night.
Iditarod mushers kept volunteers in the Nulato checkpoint busy overnight. Some teams that weren’t expected to stay grabbed a few hours rest in the sleepy Yukon River village, while others who could have used the rest decided to blow through.
Martin Buser says his dog team didn’t have much of a challenge travelling down the Yukon River this year.
“They were bored getting down that trail slow and steady and kind of a punchy, drifted trail,” he said.
Buser’s quiet team curled up for a nap almost immediately after they arrived in Nulato. Sonny Lindner arrived shortly after. His dogs wolfed down the food he offered. He says his dog team is showing signs of fatigue from the early rough trail.
“That trail was really rough at the start and once you get on the good going, and everybody starts trotting right along then all those places that got sore earlier start showing up,” he said.
Lindner spent his eight hour mandatory rest massaging sore shoulders and wrapping sore wrists. He could have waited to rest long in Kaltag, but he says Nulato is much quieter.
Checkpoint volunteers were surprised when Aliy Zirkle announced she planned to stay for a few hours in. Her team came in alert, tails wagging. She stopped to make what she calls a “significant force reduction.”
“I had to reduce my squad by two dogs: Joe Schmoe and Scruggs, so we made a significant equipment reduction. I just lost about 40 pounds off the back of my sled,” she said.
Zirkle left behind all kinds of gear she doesn’t think she’ll need. She says 12 dogs is actually the perfect number, plus it’s eight fewer feet to booty, two personalities less to deal with and a little less food to carry. As for the river travel, Zirkle says what’s normally a monotonous run seemed to go by quickly.
“Yeah, I don’t feel like the river’s been that long for me this time,” Zirkle said.
As teams come off the Yukon in Kaltag, they’ll tackle what is a reportedly snow free trail in place all the way to Unalakleet, but that’s nothing new for mushers this year.