SATURDAY, 6 p.m. -- Aliy Zirkle drove a team of 12 dogs out Kaltag at 4:55 p.m. Saturday, still in command of the Iditarod.
Left behind at the checkpoint were two of her dogs and five of her pursuers.
Zirkle reached sunny Kaltag at 11:14 a.m. Saturday and spent five hours there, resting her team during the warmth of the afternoon before returning to the trail.
Still in Kaltag, in order of their arrival, were John Baker (2:32 p.m. arrival), Mitch Seavey (2:33 p.m.), Aaron Burmeister (2:56 p.m.), Dallas Seavey (3:19 p.m.) and Jeff King (4 p.m.).
Dallas Seavey put down the fastest run on the 47-mile run to Kaltag, doing it in 4 hours, 24 -- 28 minutes faster than any of the others. Zirkle made the trip in 4:54.
Kaltag is the last of four checkpoints on the Yukon River. Next up is Unalakleet, 85 miles away. There, the race hits Norton Sound for the final 261 miles.
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Already at the checkpoint was Aliy Zirkle, who arrived more than three hours earlier, at 11:14 a.m.
Baker, driving 12 dogs, pulled in at 2:32 p.m. and Seavey, driving 13, was one minute behind.
Zirkle and Baker clocked nearly identical times on the 47-mile stretch of trail from Nulato to Kaltag.
Zirke made the run in 4 hours, 54 minutes, Baker in 4:55. Seavey made it in 5:10.
The race leaves the Yukon River at Kaltag and heads for Unalakleet, 85 miles closer to the finish line in Nome. The leaders have traveled 629 of the trail's 975 miles.
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SATURDAY, 1:08 p.m. --
Aliy Zirkle found herself nodding off in the dog sled today as she approached Kaltag. A sure sign she needed a nap -- or else. That's why the Two Rivers musher, who often breezes through checkpoints and camps along the trail, plans to stay in this riverside village four to six hours, she said.
Zirkle expects to drop a dog named Scooter, a 2-year-old female that appears to be suffering a hematoma on a front leg.
About two dozen people met Zirkle at the checkpoint, where the musher teased the kids who ran alongside her sled. Did they make posters for her, she asked?
It's sunny and clear today, with long shadows on the river. As I write this, two more teams are making their way into the village.
Zirkle was surprised to hear the chase pack was so far away. Still, she said, she doesn't yet feel like she has control of the 2012 iditarod.
"I don't feel like the Iditarod's mine. I just feel like I'm in the race right now," Zirkle said.
Check back soon for more from Zirkle, including fresh video.
Beth Bragg in Anchorage --
SATURDAY, 11:30 a.m. -- Aliy Zirkle just arrived in Kaltag with a lead of about three hours and intentions to stay awhile -- a change of habit for the Two Rivers musher.
Zirkle has been the Iditarod's drive-through race leader. She's on a run-and-rest schedule that has her running through checkpoints and resting on trails.
Zirkle reached Kaltag around 11:20 a.m., arriving under clear skies and with dogs that remained on their feet after she parked. They watched alertly as she walked to the checkpoint building with an empty bucket.
Behind Zirkle is a chase pack of five mushers. Make that two chase packs, in fact.
Mitch Seavey, John Baker and Aaron Burmeister all left Nulato for the 47-mile run to Kaltag between 9:30-10 a.m. Saturday.
About an hour later, Dallas Seavey and Jeff King left (Seavey at 10:55 a.m. and King at 11:03 a.m.). Dallas Seavey and King both logged two or three hours of rest in Nulato, while Mitch Seavey, Baker and Burmeister all pulled a Zirkle and pushed right through the checkpoint and on to Kaltag.
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SATURDAY, 10 a.m. -- Welcome to the blink-and-you'll-miss-something Iditarod.
Seavey, Baker and Burmeister arrived in Nulato in a span of one hour in fourth, fifth and sixth place, respectively. All departed swiftly, leaving Dallas Seavey and Jeff King behind.
Ahead of the threesome, with a lead of more than three hours, is Aliy Zirkle.
Baker, the defending champion from Kotzebue, said on Friday that a three-hour gap is one he believes he can close. His team got faster once the race hit the Yukon River and it should perform well once it gets to the Norton Sound coast.
Seavey was the fourth racer to reach Nulato on Saturday, arriving at 9:11 a.m. He hung around till 9:32, leaving with 13 dogs.
Baker arrived in fifth place at 9:33 a.m. with 13 dogs. He dropped one, then resumed racing at 9:37 a.m.
Burmeister, who is driving 15 dogs, got there at 9:54 and left at 10:04.
Seavey, who on Thursday and Friday delivered two marathon runs in an effort to seize command of the race, spent a lot of time resting on the trail leading to Nulato. He made the 37-mile run from Galena in 11 hours, 51 minutes -- almost twice the time needed by Zirkle (6:20), son Dallas (who is resting in Nulato after getting there second with a run-time of 6:28) and King (third to the checkpoint with a 6:21 run time).
Baker made the run in 6:32 and Burmeister clocked 6:16.
The next destination for the leaders is Kaltag, 47 miles away and the final checkpoint on the Yukon River.
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SATURDAY, 9:30 a.m. -- Jeff King, who said on Friday night that he could win the Iditarod, backed up the talk with a run to Nulato that moved him into third place, 63 minutes out of second place.
King reached Nulato at 8:46 a.m. Saturday with 14 dogs. He was 2.5 hours behind Aliy Zirkle, who got there at 6:13 a.m. and left at 6:20, also with 14 dogs.
Dallas Seavey was second to the checkpoint at 7:43 a.m., arriving with 13 dogs. He's taking an unexpected break at Nulato before beginning the 47-mile run to Kaltag, the last of four checkpoints on the Yukon River.
Of the three leaders, Zirkle clocked the fastest time over the 37 miles from Galena to Nulato, making it in 6 hours, 20 minutes. King needed 6:21, Dallas 6:28.
On the 50-mile run from Ruby to Galena, King, a four-time Iditarod champion, put down one of the fastest times so far. He clocked 5:48, Seavey 6:21 and Zirkle 6:49. Paul Gebhardt set the pace on that stretch of trail with a time of 5:41.
On the 70-mile run from Cripple to Ruby, two mushers racing for top-10 finishes and one in the middle of the pack broke the 10-hour barrier. Mike Santos, who was the 35th musher to reach Ruby, had the fastest time, 9:15. Pete Kaiser did it in 9:36 and Jake Berkowitz in 9:40.
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SATURDAY, 8 a.m. -- The ever-changing Iditarod is now a duel between former Yukon Quest champions.
Seavey, 25 and the 2011 Quest champion, arrived with 13 dogs at 7:43 a.m. Saturday.
Zirkle, 41 and the 2000 Quest champion, was first to reach the checkpoint, arriving at 6:13 a.m. Zirkle took care of business at the checkpoint quickly and moved on at 6:20 a.m.
How long Seavey stays in Nulato will detemine whether the gap stays at 90 minutes or grows. Seavey's habit has been to bank a few hours of rest at checkpoints and then gain back the time on the trail with what looks to be one of the fastest teams in the race.
Seavey made the 37-mile run from Galena to Nulato in 6 hours, 28 minutes. Zirkle did it in 6:20.
Along the way, Seavey passed his dad. Mitch Seavey left Galena in second place at 9:20 p.m. Saturday, four hours ahead of Dallas. Mitch, who stopped to rest his team on the trail, is approaching Nulato, according to GPS tracking.
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SATURDAY, 7 a.m. -- Saturday morning dawned with Aliy Zirkle running through another checkpoint -- Nulato this time -- to assume command of the Iditarod.
The chase pack is one to two hours behind her, according to GPS tracking.
It's the same group of mushers thatit has been for much of the race, except the order changed overnight.
Seavey, meanwhile, appears to be lagging after two days' worth of marathon runs.
Zirkle reached Nulato, 582 miles into the 975-mile race to Nome, at 6:13 a.m. Saturday. Seven minutes later, she was back on the trail.
Veteran musher Sebastian Schnuelle, who is following the race on snowmachine, filed this report:
"Aliy Zirkle was a flurry of activity in Nulato. She zoomed around the corner with full speed, quickly stopped without even going into the dog lot, had her dogs turned around, quickly going through her drop bags, vet book signed and off she went. Her dogs were eager but started to take their booties off, so she did not want to waste any time. Off she went into the darkness again."
“Are you staying?” a checker asked her, according to a Joe Runyan report for the Iditarod Insider.
“No,” Zirkle laughed. “ I am trying to win this thing.”
Dallas Seavey, Mitch's son, appears to be approaching Nulato at the front of the chase pack. He's about 10 miles behind Zirkle, according to GPS data.
King is next, then Mitch Seavey, then John Baker, according to the tracker.
King logged the fastest time on the 50-mile run from Ruby to Galena, making it in 5 hours, 58 minutes. Dallas Seavey did it in 6:17, John Baker in 6:22, Aaron Burmeister in 6:33 and Mitch Seavey in 7:08.
Zirkle, who made the run several hours earlier because she mushed through Ruby while the others stopped there for their layovers, clocked 6:49
Mitch Seavey and Zirkle spent Thursday and Friday leapfrogging each other, but Seavey seems to be lagging now after two days of long runs.
He left Galena at 9:20 p.m. Friday after a brief stay. But Runyan reported that Seavey parked his team not far down the trail from Galena. When Zirkle left Galena after serving her eight-hour Yukon River layover there, she passed him on the trail.
Dallas Seavey left Galena at 1:15 a.m. Saturday, followed by King (2:25 a.m.), Baker (3:01 a.m.) and Aaron Burmeister (3:38 a.m.).
Though she trails the chase pack by about 90 minutes, DeeDee Jonrowe left Galena at 5:16 a.m. Saturday in seventh place. If she can hold her position, the 58-year-old could rack up the 15th top-10 finish of her career.