Monday, 5:35 p.m. update
Just 51 minutes will separate leader John Baker from chaser Ramey Smyth when the two return to the Iditarod trail between midnight and 1 a.m. Tuesday after a final rest in White Mountain.
Baker pulled into White Mountain at 4:03 p.m. as dozens of race fans cheered and waved welcome signs. Robert Lincoln, 31, was among them, with a “Playmaker Baker” sign.
“I’m happy that an Eskimo is in front,” he said.
Smyth, who arrived at 4:54 p.m., said he pumped 90 percent of the time and ran about 10 percent of the time during the 45-mile run from Elim trying to cut into Baker’s lead. Both mushers recorded exactly the same speed enroute, 6.39 mph.
Baker checked in with 11 dogs, Smyth 10.
Once Smyth’s dogs were parked, he approached the Kotzebue musher, shook hands and said, “I wish I had your knowledge.”
Smyth is a multiple winner of the Nome Kennel Club Fastest Time from Safety to Nome award. He last took that honor in 2009, making the 22-mile run in 2 hours, 27 minutes to finish ninth overall.
The only thing for sure is that this Iditarod will crown a new champion. Neither musher has finished higher than third. Baker did that in 2009 and 2002, while Smyth turned in his best performance in 2008.
Ramey Smyth of Willow pulled into White Mountain at 4:54 p.m., setting up a sprint to the finish line when the mushers finish their layovers between midnight and 1 a.m.
They'll leave White Mountain 51 minutes apart.
Monday, 4:35 p.m. update
Kotzebue's John Baker pulled into White Mountain at 4:03 p.m. Monday to a rousing reception.
Dozens of people were there cheering and waving welcome signs. Robert Lincoln, 31, of White Mountain, was among them. His sign read: Playmaker Baker.
"I'm happy that an Eskimo is in front," Lincoln said.
Baker, who can head for Nome just after midnight, said he was tired as he cut into a food bag.
Monday, 4:15 p.m. update
Rookie Musher Brennan Norden, 37 of Kasilof, scratched at 2:38 p.m. Monday in Shageluk. Norden was running last when he scratched.
Fellow rookie Kris Hoffman of Colorado takes over the red-lantern position.
Monday, 3:45 p.m. update
Iditarod officials in White Mountain were expecting John Baker to arrive shortly. John Anderson of the Iditarod Trail Committee said the trail from Elim to White Mountain is 3 to 5 miles longer this year because it was rerouted around Golovin Bay, which was considered under unsafe. That makes it about 50 miles.
All mushers take a mandatory eight-hour rest in White Mountain before heading to Nome.
Smyth remains less than hour behind Baker
Monday, 11 a.m. update
Here are the numbers that matter for Ramey Smyth : 123 miles and 51 minutes.
Smyth is 51 minutes behind Iditarod leader John Baker with roughly 123 miles to go.
Smyth checked into Elim at 9:42 a.m. and stayed four minutes, long enough to drop a dog. He left with 10 dogs in harness at 9:46.
Smyth is basically in the same position he was when the day began in Koyuk. Baker left that checkpoint 50 minutes ahead of Smyth.
Monday, 9:30 a.m. update
John Baker is on the trail to Golovin after a quick seven-minute stop in Elim, about 120 miles from the finish line in Nome.
Baker reached the checkpoint at 8:44 this morning and left at 8:51.
According to GPS tracking, second-place Ramey Smyth is five miles behind and about to reach Elim.
Hans Gatt, who left Koyuk 70 minutes behind Smyth this morning at 4:49, is about 15 miles from Elim, according to GPS tracking.
Smyth, Gatt chase Baker out of Koyuk
Monday, 6:30 a.m. update
For Ramey Smyth, the Iditarod has become a game of follow the leader.
Taking no rest in Shaktoolik and pausing for little more than two hours in Koyuk, second-place Smyth today said his only chance to catch leader John Baker is to react when Baker acts.
"Go when he goes," Smyth told the Iditarod Insider upon arriving at Koyuk early this morning.
Smyth almost followed that plan. He left Koyuk 50 minutes after Baker early this morning.
Baker, the Kotzebue musher who seems to be in command as he makes his final push to Nome, left Koyuk with 11 dogs at 2:48 a.m.. He rested for 3 hours, 13 minutes.
Smyth, third to reach Koyuk but second to leave, followed 50 minutes later at 3:38 with 11 dogs. He rested just 2:21, after not stopping at all in Shaktoolik.
Hans Gatt, second in and third out, left at 4:49 a.m. after a rest of 3 hours, 45 minutes. He dropped three dogs in Koyuk, leaving him with 10.
The big question is whether Smyth will stop at Elim, the next checkpoint 48 miles away, or push 96 miles all the way through Elim and Golovin to White Mountain, where mushers must take an 8-hour layover.
Gatt told the Iditarod Insider such a long run might be counterproductive.
"By the time you get to White Mountain, you're just walking," he said.
Of the three mushers who are out of Koyuk, Baker's team is running the fastest. Baker made the trip from Shaktoolik in 5 hours, 55 minutes. Gatt clocked 6:39 and Smyth 6:56.