An Alaskan woman who finished second in last years Iditarod has snatched the lead from a four time champion.
Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers was the first musher out of the checkpoint at Kaltag, which is about 346 miles from the finish. The competitive teams are expected to reach the finish line early this week.
The above freezing temperatures have been a problem for the mushers all week.
Zirkle, 43, took the lead Saturday from four-time champion Martin Buser, who was the first out of the previous checkpoint at Eagle Island early Saturday. The 54-year-old veteran from Big Lake, Alaska, dropped two dogs at Eagle Island. Buser is hoping to be only the second musher to ever claim a fifth title in the race’s 40-year-history. He was the first to reach the checkpoint in Kaltag, arriving with 11 dogs at 2:24 p.m. Saturday.
Heading into Kaltag, the teams chasing Buser were traveling at faster speeds than his dogs. That was a possible indicator that his dogs needed a longer period of rest in Kaltag.
Buser tried a strategy early in the race that had many competitors confused, but he was hoping it would let him get to Nome first. On the second day of the competitive portion of the race, Buser took his mandatory 24-hour rest at the checkpoint in Rohn after an extremely fast 170-mile run that had put him hours ahead of the other teams. Since then, all the teams have taken their 24-hour rest. He knew before the race even started that he couldn’t be concerned about what the other mushers were doing.
Buser said in an Iditarod.com video, “You got to just run it to the best of your abilities, not what other people are doing. It really just comes down to you and your dog team.”
All mushers must take a second eight-hour layover at the checkpoint at White Mountain, 77 miles from Nome.
The first musher to reach Nome will win $50,400 and a new 2013 Dodge Ram pickup truck. The rest of the $600,000 purse will be split between the next 29 mushers to cross the finish line.
The race began with 66 teams at a ceremonial start in Anchorage March 2. The competitive start began Sunday in Willow. Five mushers have already scratched, the latest being Chugiak veteran Michael Suprenant. Race officials said Suprenant scratched Saturday out of concern for his 12-dog team at the ghost town checkpoint of Iditarod.