MONDAY, 7:45 p.m. update -- Ramey Smyth, famous for his finishing kicks, is steamrolling through the competition, grabbing third place Monday when he left Elim at 6:56 p.m.
Ahead of him on the trail to Golovin are Dallas Seavey and Aliy Zirkle. According to GPS data, Seavey is a mile ahead of Zirkle and 16 miles away from Golovin.
Smyth trails the leader by eight miles, according to GPS tracking.
Smyth is on a torrid pace that has taken him from 30th place in Takotna to third place, with Nome just less than 100 miles away.
He was fourth into Elim, arriving 24 minutes after Aaron Burmeister, who arrived in third place at 6:26 p.m. But Smyth stayed for only six minutes, while Burmeister was still there as of 7:45 p.m.
MONDAY, 5 p.m. -- Dallas Seavey blew through Elim ahead of Aliy Zirkle on Monday afternoon. He's on his way to Golovin, 28 miles away.
Seavey reached the checkpoint at 3:19 p.m. with 10 dogs. He left six minutes later, at 3:25, with nine dogs.
At 3:51, Zirkle arrived. Sebastian Schnuelle, the veteran musher who is covering this year's race via snowmachine, reports that Zirkle plans to rest at the checkpoint.
"Aliy is resting, looking a bit down," he wrote. "Windy as hell on the Kwik River Delta."
The frontrunners are 46 miles from White Mountain, where they must take an eight-hour break. They should reach White Mountain late Monday, which would put them back on the trail early Tuesday with the Nome finish line just 55 miles away.
A Tuesday afternoon finish is expected.
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MONDAY, 4:05 p.m. -- We landed in Koyuk this afternoon just in time to see Ramey Smyth bolt into 4th place. Ray Redington Jr., 8th to arrive in the village, watched him go.
“He’s a brave soul,” Redington said. He opened a pack of Marlboros with red, bare fingers in the searing daylight cold.
“He Pete!” Redington called to place Pete Kaiser of Bethel, who was laboring to replace the plastic on his sled runners a few yards away. “You keep chasing Ramey Smyth, he might make you famous.”
Smyth is indeed known for heroic runs late in the Iditarod. One of the feats overlooked in the 2011 race was his grinding charge up the coast as he closed the gap on eventual winner and record-breaker John Baker of Kotzebue by whipping through checkpoints.
As Redington paused for a smoke, Baker kneeled nearby, rubbing ointment into the foot pads of a charcoal-colored husky. The dog whined.
The team is tired Baker said. It’s unlikely he’ll capture a second-straight win unless the mushers ahead of him falter, he said. “It’s not looking as good as it once did.”
Is it too late for mushers like Kaiser and Redington to fight for the win?
Probably, Kaiser said. “(We’re) more trying to get the best position. But it’s not out of the question if they make a mistake or something like that. I’m sure that’s what’s on Ramey’s mind.”
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MONDAY, 3:15 p.m. -- We watched the leaders from the plane today as they approached Elim on parchment-flat trail. Sharp ice jumbles and wind-whipped snow caps surround the route today.
Dallas Seavey, kicking hard, appeared to be about a mile ahead of Aliy Zirkle outside the village.
More soon, including interviews with a few of the top ten mushers.
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MONDAY, noon -- A close Iditarod looks even closer, according to GPS tracking data.
Seavey owned a 22-minute lead over Zirkle when they left Koyuk.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the race, the battle for the Red Lantern is also looking close.
The three racers at the back of the pack left Ruby on Monday morning after long stays at the checkpoint.
Dan Seavey, Dallas's grandpa, stayed nearly 19 hours before leaving at 7:55 a.m.
More than two hours later, Jan Steves and Bob Chlupach left within eight minutes of each, with Steves pulling out at 10:17 a.m. and Chlupach at 10:25 a.m.
Odds are good one of those three will claim the Red Lantern as the last musher to finish the race.
Aaron Burmeister is also on the trail to Elim, but he trails the leaders by a good two hours.
MONDAY, 11:30 a.m. -- Aaron Burmeister left Koyuk at 10:50 a.m. Monday in third place.
He completed the 50-mile journey from Shaktoolik to Koyuk in 7 hours, 40 minutes.
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Seavey left Koyuk at 8:29 a.m., with Zirkle following at 8:51 a.m.
Seavey beat Zirkle to Koyuk by 96 minutes. He logged a little more than five hours of rest there, while Zirkle got about four.
Seavey also dropped a dog at the checkpoint, leaving him with 10 for the final 171 miles to Nome. Zirkle is running 12 dogs.
Zirkle had the faster run-time over the 50-mile stretch of trail, but Seavey stopped to rest his team for awhile on the coastal ice. Zirkle made the trip in 7 hours, 38 minutes; Seavey made it in 8:39.
Five other mushers are in Koyuk -- Aaron Burmeister, John Baker, Pete Kaiser, Mitch Seavey and Ramey Smyth, who has made a huge jump in the standings the last two days. On Saturday, he reached Ruby in 21st place and now he's in seventh place.
Koyuk is 48 miles from Elim, 94 miles from White Mountain, where mushers must take an eight-hour break, and 171 miles from the Nome finish line.
Expect an afternoon finish on Tuesday.
Seavey reached Koyuk at 3:17 a.m. with 11 dogs.
Zirkle got there at 4:53 with 12 dogs.
Third-place Aaron Burmeister arrived at 6:43 with 12 dogs. He dropped two in Shaktoolik.
Zirkle and Burmeister had faster run times than Seavey. Zirkle made the 50-mile trip to Koyuk in 7 hours, 38 minutes. Burmeister made it in 7:40.
Seavey clocked 8:39. He spent just seven minutes in Shaktoolik -- Zirkle was there for two hours -- and stopped for awhile on the trail to Koyuk, according to the Facebook fan page of Seavey's dad, Mitch Seavey, who left Shaktoolik shortly after midnight in fifth place.
Defending champion John Baker was fourth out of Shaktoolik, leaving at 11:23 p.m. Sunday.
If you're feeling lucky, the Seaveys who are manning Mitch's Facebook page announced a contest on Monday morning: guess Dallas's time from Safety to Nome -- a 22-mile sprint -- and win an item from the family's online gift shop, autographed by all three generations of Seaveys doing this year's race.
"I know...the prizes are going downhill, but we only have one puppy right now," the contest post said.
Dan Seavey, dad of Mitch, grandfather of Dallas, is one of three mushers still in Ruby, more than 300 miles behind the leaders. He's in Red Lantern contention along with Bob Chlupach and Jan Steves.