Iditarod Live: The Sled Blog

Polar bear patrol with Sebastian Schnuelle - 11/15/2012 6:09 pm

Seavey on why he sued: 'I feel like I'm doing the right thing' - 5/22/2012 5:14 pm

Jonrowe wins dog care award; Mackey honored for sportsmanship - 3/18/2012 9:44 pm

Happy trails - 3/16/2012 2:47 pm

Third-place Ramey Smyth: 'I almost didn't get to the start line' - 3/16/2012 7:15 am

Meet the Sled Dogs: Colleen & Penny - 3/15/2012 7:09 pm

WATCH: Rapping dog musher finishes Iditarod, raps about the race - 3/15/2012 3:37 pm

Mackey: 'It wasn't the stellar performance I was expecting' - 3/15/2012 12:47 pm

Day 8: Seavey leaves Shaktoolik in lead; nobody follows

Aaron Burmeister gets his dogs back on course as he leaves Unalakleet. (Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News)Aaron Burmeister gets his dogs back on course as he leaves Unalakleet. (Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News)

Kyle Hopkins in Unalakleet and Beth Bragg in Anchorage --

SUNDAY, 9:30 p.m. -- Nobody followed when Dallas Seavey left Shaktoolik with the Iditarod lead on Sunday night.

Seavey left the checkpoint at 6:38 p.m., before anyone else had arrived.

Aaron Burmeister pulled in at 6:58 p.m. and Aliy Zirkle joined him at 7:14 p.m., but as of 9:30 p.m., both were still in Shaktoolik.

With a lead of at least three hours, Seavey was headed to Koyuk, 50 miles away, with a team of 11 dogs built for speed.

* * *

SUNDAY, 2:56 p.m. -- The battle for White Mountain has begun. The GPS tracker shows Dallas Seavey stealing the race lead from Aaron Burmeister, who was first to launch for the coast. Longtime leader Aliy Zirkle is now chasing in third place.

Although Zirkle rested longer in Unalakleet than Seavey on Sunday, she knew the young musher would pose a problem in these waning days and hours of the race.

“That’s what I thought back in Galena when he stopped (to rest) and started thinking wisely about the future down the trail and not the here and now,” Zirkle said as she fed her dogs a snack of kibble and turkey skins.

A wheel dog named Willie, as in Willie Nelson, nibbled the meat from Zirkle’s hand. This late in the Iditarod, the team that doesn’t eat is the team that loses.

“So far so good,” Zirkle said.

Although friendly with bystanders -- “How’s everyone doing?!” -- and talking cheerfully to her dogs, the Two Rivers musher was moving slowly.

Shivering as she arrived, Zirkle inspected old frostbite wounds in the checkpoint hall.

Seavey, 25, sat eating breakfast at a nearby couch, his face wind-burned and his head down, but crackling with intensity.

“We were taking extra rest. We were building speed,” Seavey said of his end-game tactics. “And speed pays dividends and it will last for as long as I need it to, which will be somewhere around Nome."

Seavey’s turbo-charged dogs could trail the leader to White Mountain by as much as 40 minutes and still win, he said. He’s already started running alongside his sled at times.

“There’s some advantages to being half the age of a lot of the competitors,” Seavey said.

Burmeister, the 36-year-old who trains in Nome and arrived in Unalakleet in third placed, was trailing Seavey on Sunday afternoon about 25 miles outside of Shaktoolik. He believes he has a team that can wear down the former Yukon Quest champion.

“I can’t move as fast as Dallas, but I don’t want to go fast,” Burmeister said.

His plan: Force the faster team to cut rest and exhaust its speed over the long runs to White Mountain. A similar tactic worked for John Baker last year en route to a record-breaking Iditarod finish.

Baker, meanwhile, left Unalakleet in fourth place at 2:43 p.m. Sunday, two hours behind Burmeister, who left at 12:35 p.m. Mitch Seavey, Dallas's dad, left at 3:26 p.m.

Among the five who are on the way to Shaktoolik, Dallas Seavey has the fastest by a significant margin.

He ran the 85 miles from Kaltag in 11 hours, 42 minutes, almost an hour faster than Burmeister (12:38). Zirkle clocked 13:33, Baker 13:38 and Mitch Seavey 16:21.

Shaktoolik is 221 miles from the Nome finish line and and 144 miles from White Mountain, where mushers must take an eight-hour layover before making the final push to Nome.

* * *

SUNDAY, 1:18 p.m. -- Aaron Burmeister was the first musher out of Unalakleet today, leaving for the coast at 12:35 p.m.

Dallas Seavey followed just six minutes later. Seavey is planning on making long runs up the Norton Sound, taking advantage of speed reserves he's built over the past two days. Burmeister, meanwhile, hopes his energetic team can exhaust Seavey by forcing him to stay on the move.

"That's how you beat a faster team, is take away the rest," Burmeister said.

Aliy Zirkle gave chase moments ago, at 1:01 p.m.

“I don’t know if I am in a position to win or not,” she said. “I’m in a position to do the best I can, for sure.”

Look for defending Iditarod champ John Baker to pursue the pack soon. He's eating fry bread and jam at the chow hall, looking unconcerned.

"They BETTER get out of here," he said. "Because I'm going to leave pretty quick. You never know if I'll stop once I get started."

(Baker, who was sitting with his brother, then joked that with his old body it might be hard to stop once he hit the trail.)

Check back fore more updates soon, including why Zirkle believes Dallas Seavey is her biggest threat.

* * *

SUNDAY, 9:25 a.m. -- John Baker arrived in Unalakleet on Sunday morning as Aaron Burmeister fed his huskies and Dallas Seavey rubbed ointment on paws.

He got there at 9:08 a.m., 90 minutes behind race leader Aliy Zirkle, who had disappeared into the cramped checkpoint bedrooms to sleep by the time Baker arrived.

Governor, a Burmeister dog, wolfed a mix of beef, beef fat and tripe.

“The key to being able to stay competitive at this stage in the game is to keep the dogs eating and drinking so they stay hydrated," Burmeister said.

Burmeister said his dogs are strong. He’s the one in bad shape.

The Nenana musher has been suffering a severe head cold that robs him of sleep. He soaked his cold-weather gear with cold chills as racers encountered 40-below temperatures overnight.

Burmeister has been hallucinating along the trail – likely because he’s sick, he said.

“Every time I close my eyes,” he said. “Trains were coming at me. The dogs were a bunch of cars. I thought I was going the wrong way.”

One advantage for Burmeister, who trains in Nome: The stretch of trail ahead is the same route he and his dogs just completed in the Paul Johnson Memorial 450.

"Just smelling the salty air as you come through the pass is incredible," he said.

Like Team Burmeister, Zirkle's dogs are eating well, said her husband Allen Moore. The musher, however, looks fatigued.

* * *

SUNDAY, 8:45 a.m. -- Though Dallas Seavey and Aaron Burmeister made sure she didn't have the place to herself for very long, Aliy Zirkle couldn't have gotten a better greeting Sunday morning in Unalakleet.

Her husband, Allen Moore, was there to meet here, as were two representatives from Wells Fargo, who presented her with $2,500 in gold nuggets for being the first musher to reach the village on the Norton Sound coast.

Zirkle, who reached Unalakleet at 7:28 a.m. after a 13.5-hour run from Kaltag, may have been willing to swap the gold for a nap.

"I popped so many caffeine pills in the last five hours it should be illegal," she joked as she sat with Moore and dined on an omelet.

When she ran out of water to swallow with the pills, she ate snow, she said.

Fifty minutes after Zirkle arrived with a dozen dogs, Seavey arrived with 11. His run of 11:42 sliced two hours off the three-hour lead Zirkle owned at Kaltag on Saturday.

Seavey arrived at 8:18 a.m. and Aaron Burmeister was close behind, pulling in at 8:30 a.m. with 15 dogs.

Burmeister, who covered the 85 miles from Kaltag in 12:38, trains in Nome, so his dogs are nearing familiar territory.

* * *

SUNDAY, 7 a.m. -- Iditarod leader Aliy Zirkle is $2,500 richer after reaching Unalakleet with a team of 12 dogs Sunday morning.

As the first musher to reach the Norton Sound village, Zirkle wins the Wells Fargo Gold Coast Award.

Zirkle's prize includes a gold cup and $2,500 in gold nuggets, purchased from Jim Hanson, a longtime Nome resident and gold miner.

Zirkle made the 85-mile run from Kaltag in 13 hours, 33 minutes.

* * *

SUNDAY, 2 a.m. -- John Baker, Mitch Seavey and Aaron Burmeister sliced about an hour off Aliy Zirkle's lead Saturday night as the lead pack left the Yukon River and headed to Unalakleet.

But as the Iditarod enters its second week, the battle for the top 10 is as fierce as the battle for first place, and more unpredictable.

Say hello to seventh-place Ken Anderson and eighth-place Michelle Phillips, who jumped into the top 10 late Saturday when they motored through Kaltag after brief stays.

And say whoa to Ray Redington Jr., Pete Kaiser and Jake Berkowitz, who left Kaltag together a little more than an hour after Anderson and Phillips, but with the benefit of more than four hours of rest.

Of the first 11 mushers into Kaltag, Redington registered the fastest time from Nulato, 4 hours, 16 minutes. The next two fastest times belonged to Kaiser (4:20) and Berkowitz (4:25).

Those three -- dubbed the Three Musketeers by Sebastian Schnuelle -- were roughly 30 minutes faster than any of the teams ahead of them, with the exception of fifth-place Dallas Seavey (4:24).

Zirkle reached Kaltag shortly before noon Saturday, three hours before anyone else. She left at 4:55 p.m.

Baker, Mitch Seavey and Burmeister spent less time at the checkpoint and thereby took more than an hour off Zirkle's lead. They left at 6:30 p.m., 6:39 p.m. and 6:52 p.m., respectively.

Next to leave were Dallas Seavey (7:37 p.m.) and Jeff King (8:57).

After them were Anderson (10:40 departure, after a 12-minute stay) and Phillips (10:59 p.m., after a 19-minute stay).

Redington, Kaiser and Berkowitz all left at 12:13 a.m.

Not far behind were three veterans -- DeeDee Jonrowe (1:05 a.m.), Sonny Lindner (1:15 a.m.) and Ramey Smyth (1:44 a.m.).

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