FRIDAY, 10 p.m. -- Here we go again.
Seavey arrived in Galena with a team of 13 dogs at 9:08 p.m. Friday. He departed 12 minutes later.
Left behind was Zirkle, who is doing her mandatory 8-hour Yukon River layover and can't leave the checkpoint until 11:53 p.m. Friday.
Zirkle and Seavey have been trading the lead for most of the last two days. Zirkle twice grabbed the lead from Seavey, first in Cripple and again in Ruby, by charging through a checkpoint while Seavey was settled in for a rest.
When it happened in Ruby, Seavey was doing his 24-hour layover and couldn't give chase until it ended about five hours after Zirkle was in and out.
The important numbers about the 50-mile run from Ruby to Galena: Zirkle did it in 6 hours, 49 minutes and Seavey did it in 7:08.
* * *
FRIDAY, 4:30 p.m. -- Aliy Zirkle is in Galena and Mitch Seavey is out of Ruby as the drama continued Friday afternoon.
Zirkle reached Galena at 3:53 p.m. with 14 dogs.
About two hours earlier, at 2 p.m., Seavey wrapped up his eight-hour layover in Ruby and began the 50-mile run to Galena with 14 dogs in harness.
Zirkle still needs to complete an eight-hour layover in either Galena, Nulato or Kaltag, which along with Ruby are the race's four checkpoints on the Yukon River.
* * *
FRIDAY, 11:30 a.m. -- Aliy Zirkle left a dog and a hat behind before she blew out of Ruby on Friday morning.
The dog was Viper, who was looking a little thin, Zirkle said. That leaves her with 14 dogs.
The hat was a red SP Kennel hat, and Zirkle gave it to a woman from the village who came outside to cheer for her.
It's about time a woman won the Iditarod again, the woman told Zirkle. The last time a woman won was 1990, when Susan Butcher won the last of her four titles.
"Women gotta get out there back in the front," the fan said.
"We gotta at least try, don't we?" Zirkle replied.
Watch the video here.
* * *
FRIDAY, 11 a.m. -- Instead of feasting on champagne and caviar, Mitch Seavey heated up some frozen spaghetti Friday morning after tending to his dogs at the Ruby checkpoint.
Seavey had the bad luck to be the first musher to Ruby in a year when the traditional prize for doing so has been mostly scrapped due to a loss of sponsorship.
Before this year, the Millennium Hotel sponsored the First to the Yukon Award, which recognized the first musher to reach the spot where the 975-mile race hits the Yukon River.
The prize included $3,500 and a seven-course gourmet meal prepared on site.
Musher Scott Janssen, owner of Janssen Funeral Homes, donated $3,000 when he learned the award was going away due to lack of sponsorship. So Seavey won't leave Ruby empty-handed.
Seavey confessed that he wasn't sorry to miss the gourmet meal. He said he'd rather use his time in Ruby preparing his team for the next stretch of trail. Plus, frozen spaghetti heats up nicely.
According to Seavey's Facebook fan page, this is the first time in 19 years that the Sterling musher has won any of the race's "first to" awards (first to McGrath, first to the halfway point, first to the Yukon).
Of course, back in 2004 Seavey won the race's biggest "first to" award by crossing the finish line in Nome as the Iditarod champion.
* * *
FRIDAY, 9:30 a.m. -- For the second time in 14 hours, Aliy Zirkle snatched the Iditarod lead from Mitch Seavey by blasting through a checkpoint while Seavey was resting.
This time, though, her lead comes with an asterisk
Zirkle was in and out of Ruby at about 9 a.m. Friday. She reached the checkpoint three hours after Seavey, but now she's on the trail to Galena while Seavey's race is on pause in Ruby.
Seavey, along with son Dallas, who was second to reach Ruby, are taking eight-hour layovers at the checkpoint. Every musher must take an eight-hour layover somewhere on the Yukon -- at Ruby, Galena, Nulato or Kaltag.
Zirkle will have to take hers at one of the last three of those since she didn't stop in Ruby. But for now, she is the race leader, although it's fair to say the Seaveys will bypass her once she stops for her layover.
Race judge Rich Bosela said Zirkle's dogs looked surprisingly spry when the team passed through.
"She's our new leader in the Iditarod race," Bosela said. "They'll be hopscotching back and forth, depending on who decides to rest longer. Certainly, if she takes her eight hours in Galena, she's going to see some teams passing her as she's parked."
Zirkle won the 2000 Yukon Quest and is running a team loaded with dogs that just finished the thousand-mile race last month. Checkpoints in the Quest are fewer and farther apart than those in the Iditarod, so teams tend to make long runs in the Quest.
Bosela said Zirkle told him that's why she had the confidence to keep mushing when she reached Ruby.
Zirkle pulled off the same move Thursday night in Cripple. Seavey reached the checkpoint long before anyone else and more than four hours before Zirkle. He was giving his dogs a rest when Zirkle arrived at 6:26 p.m. and left six minutes later.
Seavey followed at 6:55 p.m. and passed Zirkle on the trail to Ruby while Zirkle's team was parked and taking a break.
* * *
FRIDAY, 8 a.m. -- Mitch Seavey is in Ruby, back in command of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race -- but at what price?
Seavey reached the Yukon River at 6 a.m. Friday and had the checkpoint to himself for more than an hour until son Dallas arrived at 7:07 a.m.
Defending champion John Baker arrived in third place around 8:30 a.m.
As he gave snacks to his dogs under a faint display of northern lights, Mitch Seavey worried that the two long runs that vaulted him into the Iditarod lead will cost him later in the race.
Seavey made an epic, nearly 100-mile run Thursday to grab the lead from Aliy Zirkle, and then turned in another marathon overnight, going the 70 miles from Cripple to Ruby without stopping for a rest.
"There's more to the race than being here first," he said. "I paid a price to do that. We're not going to get much of a return on our investment.
"... We'll see how resilient (the dogs) are. But they're going to be slower than they were," he said.
Comparing notes at the checkpoint, father and son commiserated over the long run from Cripple. Mitch made it to Ruby in 11 hours, 5 minutes and Dallas did it in 10:42.
"I did it faster than you. Ha ha!" Dallas teased his dad.
Mitch, who said he was tired after two long days of mushing, said he'll take an eight-hour layover in Ruby. Ruby is the first of four villages on the river -- Galena, Nulato and Kaltag are the others -- and mushers must take an eight-hour layover at one of them.
"The run in here was really long. It took way too long," about two hours longer than it should have, he said.
"The dogs just didn't want to go very fast for a while," he said.
They could be still recovering from Thursday's long haul from Takotna to Cripple via Ophir, a total of 96 miles. Seavey held a narrow lead of three minutes leaving Takotna but reached Cripple with a lead of 1 hour, 42 minutes.
Zirkle got there more than four hours later but shook things up at least temporarily by leaving almost immediately at 6:22 p.m. Seavey, who rested his dogs in Cripple for more than four hours, followed 23 minutes later and passed Zirkle on his way to Ruby.
"I was hoping to gain some time by taking longer runs," Seavey explained. "It looks like I didn't do that."
Bold moves don't always pay off on the Iditarod Trail, but sometimes a bold move is what turns a top contender into a champion.
"You can play it real cautious, or you can go to win," Seavey said. "I've always been real cautious and I've always been in the top 10."
With another 430 miles to go before the finish line in Nome, it's too early to know if Seavey's gamble will pay off.
His son is still breathing down his neck, and after reaching Ruby, Dallas said he likes the way his race is shaping up.
He thinks his team is the fastest among the frontrunners and thinks it's stronger than his dad's.
His dogs arrived in Ruby barking and stayed on their feet, looking spirited.
"I'm just going to start chipping away at that gap," he said of the 67 minutes separating father from son. "Here, we made up another 20, 25 minutes. We'll just keep taking little pieces like that the next day or two.
"But I may not stick to that plan. I may go ahead and just make a move if I need to and either close that gap completely or jump out ahead a little bit."