Monday 3:30 p.m. update
Kasilof musher Paul Gebhardt, who arrived in Nikolai today with three dogs in his sled, scratched from the race early this afternoon.
"I feel bad that I got to scratch, but I don't feel like I made a bad decision," Gebhardt told ADN reporter Kyle Hopkins. "To me that's part of the sport -- to know when to say when."
Down to eight strong dogs with more than 700 miles left in the 1,000-mile race, the two-time Iditarod runnerup said he doesn't have enough power to get all the way to Nome.
Gebhardt dropped one dog in Rainy Pass and another in Rohn. Then he made part of the 75-mile run from Rohn to Nikolai with 180 pounds -- the combined weight of three dogs -- in his sled. Another made it to Nikolai in harness but Gebhardt said he didn't think the animal is strong enough to get to Nome.
The three who arrived in his basket cramped up along the trail, Gebhardt said. He blamed warm weather and dehydration.
After deciding to drop, Gebhardt was relieved to hear he could hitch a ride back to Anchorage with the Iditarod Air Force.
"I don't even have a wallet with me," he said. "I couldn't fly on a commercial flight."
Schuelle second to leave Nikolai
Monday 2:10 p.m. update
Sebastian Schnuelle is the second musher out of Nikolai, leaving at 1:09 this afternoon -- 38 minutes after Martin Buser.
Schnuelle, the runnerup in this year's Yukon Quest, left with 15 dogs in harness.
Buser leads the way out of Nikolai
Monday 1:30 p.m. update
After a rest of more than four hours, Iditarod leader Martin Buser and a swift team of sled-dogs left Nikolai today at 12:31 p.m.
Their next stop is McGrath, 54 miles away.
Buser, who is making a bid to join Rick Swenson as the race's only five-time champion, has a full team of 16 dogs.
Buser grabbed the lead on the long run from Rohn to Nikolai, a 75-mile journey through the Farewell Burn. His dogs averaged 13.65 mph on the trip.
Buser first into Nikolai
Monday 9 a.m. update
Martin Buser is the new leader of the Iditarod. The Big Lake musher was the first to reach Nikolai this morning, arriving at 8:05.
Right behind him were Anchorage musher Robert Bundtzen, who checked in at 8:09, and Hugh Neff, at 8:10.
"It feels like Hawaii out here compared to the Yukon Quest," said Neff, the Tok musher who led much of this year's storm-battered Quest before his team stalled during a ferocious storm on Eagle Summit.
Ray Redington Jr. arrived fourth and Lance Mackey arrived fifth, right around 8:40.
Race ends for a champion canine
Monday 8 a.m. update
The Iditarod is over for the reigning champ.
No, not Lance Mackey. But one of his top dogs.
Mackey on Monday night dropped last year’s Golden Harness winner from his team, leaving Maple behind in Rohn.
Maple, who led Mackey’s team to victory No. 4 last year, wore her Golden Harness in Saturday’s ceremonial start of the race in Anchorage.
On Monday, she was in Mackey’s sled when the team reached Rohn, the Iditarod Insider reported.
The Insider report said Mackey wasn’t too stressed about dropping Maple. Three years ago in Rohn, he dropped another leader — Hobo — and went on to win the race.
Mackey told the Daily News last week that his team is deep with leaders.
“I’ve always had one or two pretty good leaders. But this year, for the first time, 13 out of the 16 dogs I’m racing with run lead and not just run lead, they’re command leaders,” he said.
Injured Swenson makes it to Rohn
Tuesday 7 a.m. update
Rick Swenson, already an Iditarod great for his five victories and perennial presence as a powerhouse, added to his legend overnight.
Refusing to quit despite breaking a collarbone Monday, the 60-year-old dog driver survived the steep, twisting Dalzell Gorge and cruised into Rohn at 9:19 p.m. Monday.
He was the 25th driver to reach Rohn, but he made swift work of the 48-mile run from Rainy Pass. His 14-dog team recorded the sixth-fastest time, averaging 12.31 mph and completing the trip in 3 hours, 26 minutes.
The gorge can be a perilous ride that requires mushers to keep both hands on their sleds. That was a challenge for Swenson, who broke his collarbone earlier Monday when he crashed on the Happy River steps leading into Rainy Pass.
Martin Buser, the four-time champ who grabbed the lead this morning in Nikolai, posted the fastest time between Rainy Pass and Rohn. His dogs averaged 13.65 mph.
Swenson left Rohn at 3:55 this morning after resting his dogs -- and perhaps an aching shoulder -- for 6.5 hours.