Note: We have updated this with a story about the race's finish Tuesday night.
TUESDAY, 6:45 p.m. update --
Aliy Zirkle is out of Safety and headed for Nome, while a crowd on that city's Front Street awaits the arrival of Dallas Seavey.
Zirkle left Safety at 4:51 p.m. Tuesday, 69 minutes after Seavey left the final checkpoint before Nome. Just 22 miles separate Safety from the finish line.
TUESDAY, 4:15 p.m. update --
Dallas Seavey is out of Safety and on his way to Nome.
The 25-year-old is 22 miles away from becoming the youngest Iditarod champion in race history.
Seavey arrived in Safety at 3:37 p.m. Tuesday, stayed for five minutes and left at 3:42 with nine dogs in harness.
It should take him about three hours, maybe a little less, to reach the finish line.
TUESDAY, 4 p.m. update --
Tom Thurston of Colorado scratched Tuesday in Unalakleet, citing concern for his dogs. He was running eight on his team at the time.
Thurston, of Oak Creek, was in his fifth Iditarod with his best finish coming last year when he placed 41st.
He is the 11th racer to end his race before reaching the Nome finish line. The race began March 4 with 66 mushers in the field.
* * *
TUEDAY, 9:45 a.m. update --
Aliy Zirkle has left White Mountain, chasing Iditarod leader Dallas Seavey west to Nome. Zirkle must overcome a 71-minute deficit, a nearly impossible task unless Seavey falters along the way.
As Zirkle disappeared, Seavey's father Mitch arrived a few yards behind defending champion John Baker.
When Zirkle first arrived overnight at White Mountain, she said she would focus on outpacing the racers behind her and that Seavey was out of reach. But the musher has also said today that she'll make a run at chasing the 25-year-old down.
Zirkle said she's avoiding the temptation to think about what might have been in the 2012 Iditarod, and is looking to the final stretch ahead.
"I'm not going to have a frustrated run," Zirkle said. "I've had frustrated runs in the past from here and, nah, I'm not going to do that."
Ramey Smyth, 36, was scheduled to leave in third place at 10:17 a.m. Smyth said illness hobbled the team early in the race. Smyth dropped multiple young dogs such as "Yak" and "Walrus" that suffered from diarrhea and vomiting, he said.
The stomach bug wasn't the team's only misadventure. On the first day of the Iditarod, Smyth fell asleep on the sled and tumbled off, he said.
Smyth ran after the dogs for 40 minutes before receiving a 10-minute sled ride and tracking them down.
Could Smyth, who leaped from 30th to third place in the latter two thirds of the race, have won under other circumstances?
"I almost guarantee it," he said.
The Iditarod winner takes home a $50,400 check and a Dodge pickup.
8:25 a.m. UPDATE:
Iditarod leader Dallas Seavey just pulled his team out of White Mountain headed for Nome. It's a 77-mile trip with a stop at the checkpoint in Safety.
Aliy Zirkle, in second place, can leave at 9:25 a.m. She and Ramey Smyth, who can leave at 10:17 a.m., are both up and tending to their sleds.
Seavey said he expects to reach Nome around 6 p.m. The Iditarod put out an announcement this morning saying to expect a finish between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
* * *
7:30 a.m. UPDATE:
Kyle Hopkins in White Mountain --
It’s morning on the final day of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and 25-year-old Dallas Seavey is up and moving sluggish, bandaging a grape-sized blister on his toe.
At 8:14 a.m., the Willow musher will be allowed to return to the trail after a mandatory 8-hour rest, and plans to charge to Nome for a history-making victory.
First, he wants some coffee.
“You start hallucinating about now,” Seavey said, his eyes puffy from a dreamless sleep and his face burned red by the coastal wind.
The musher holds a 71-minute lead on Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, and a more than two-hour cushion on last year’s second-place finisher, Ramey Smyth. Barring any surprises, 25-year-old Seavey will be the youngest-ever musher to win the race.
Seavey says he has gained two or three hours on rivals over the course of this same 70-mile stretch of trail in the past but believes his pursuers won’t have enough time to catch him before the finish.
Zirkle said early this morning that Seavey will be out of her reach in the final leg of the race. Smyth said the marathon runs his team made up the Norton Sound coast have left him without the speed he would need to gain ground on the younger musher.
He’ll give it a try anyway.
“I haven’t conceded yet, I’m still going to give it a go,” Smyth said.
Seavey expects the run to Nome to take him about 10 hours, putting him on the Front Street finish line sometime around 6 p.m.
Zirkle had asked race officials to wake her up by now. She is scheduled to leave White Mountain at 9:25 a.m. Smyth will follow at 10:17 a.m.
The 36-year-old racer was in 30th place when he took his 24-hour rest in Takotna. Iditarod analysts, now waking up in the warm, wood-paneled village tribal building, marveled at the leap.
While Smyth is known for strong finishes, he too was pleasantly surprised to be on pace for a top-three finish. “I tried to be as efficient as possible,” he said.
Seavey will likely continue running along with his dogs on sections of the trail today. The musher is wearing a pair of lightweight “snow sneakers” – a kind of mix between running shoes and snow boots that make it easier to run along with his team for added speed.
“I’ve been wearing tennis shoes since we started,” he said.
* * *
3:15 a.m. UPDATE:
Dallas Seavey believes he's the new Iditarod champion barring any major mishaps on the way to Nome. At 25, he would be the youngest musher to win the 975-mile Super Bowl of sled dog racing.
Making history was his goal all along, Seavey said as he signed autographs and inspected his dogs. "That's been something I've really been working toward for five years now, and now that it's almost a reality is pretty cool."
Aliy Zirkle -- his closest challenger -- says she can't catch him.
Zirkle arrived in White Mountain tonight 71 minutes after Seavey. She's more worried about the mushers behind her, including surging Ramey Smyth of Willow, than trying to overcome Seavey's seemingly unbeatable lead.
"I'm on the defensive now," Zirkle said.
Smyth didn't arrive at the checkpoint, where all the mushers must break for a mandatory eight-hour rest, until 2:17. A full two hours out of first place.
Later this morning, Seavey will begin the 70-mile sprint to Nome. While Smyth is known for his rapid finishes, Seavey is likely too far ahead for any musher to catch unless his dogs quit or he has some other unexpected woes.
(In comparison, Kotzebue musher John Baker held just a 51-minute lead over Smyth at this point in last year's race. Baker still held on to capture the win.)
A champion wrestler, Seavey said he has been bounding behind his sled up the Norton Sound coast, pushing and pulling along with his dogs. His strategy to reserve speed for late in the race is now paying off, he said.
Other teams tried to claim the lead too early, he said, exhausting their dogs and fizzling away. "As soon as their teams really started coming together, they took off and started racing and tore it all to pieces."
"I felt like I was in control of this race as early as Ruby and maybe even Cripple, but we didn't even make a move until we were well on our way to Unalakleet," Seavey said.
Despite more than a week on the trail, the sleepless musher was clear-eyed and sharp-minded as he described his winning tactics. Zirkle arrived in good humor, teasing a veterinarian that the only thing that was wrong with her dogs is that they weren't fast enough.
* * *
In sled-dog racing, pedigree matters.
Dallas Seavey, 25, on Tuesday morning was the first musher to reach White Mountain, where he settled in for a mandatory eight-hour layover before beginning the king-making sprint to Nome.
Among the mushers he’s left behind along the trail are his father and grandfather.
And no one knows a Seavey like a Seavey.
“He’s got it sewn up if he does what he knows how to do, and that’s run dogs,” Seavey’s father Mitch, the 2004 champion, said Monday as he tended to his own team in Koyuk.
The younger Seavey predicted his turbo-charged dogs could outpace his chief challenger, Two Rivers musher Aliy Zirkle, even if he arrived in White Mountain 40 minutes behind her.
Instead, Seavey beat Zirkle in a marathon run up the Norton Sound coast.
"I guess I'm pretty stoked, man," Seavey said after he pulled into the checkpoint at 12:13 a.m.
He asked a race judge how far back Zirkle was. Three to five miles, he was told.
That was a huge margin compared to how close the battle was earlier in the day.
Zirkle, 41, chased Seavey all day long. Seavey left Koyuk 22 minutes ahead of her early Monday morning, and although Zirkle got even much closer than that on the run to Elim, she never managed to seize control.
'SICK AND TIRED'
Mitch Seavey, meantime, says he is out of contention for a second Iditarod victory.
His once-promising team is “sick and tired,” he said, suffering from diarrhea and occasional vomiting. The illness took hold before he began running the Yukon River in the last third of the race, he said.
“If things had gone better it was a first-class team,” Seavey said. “Now we’ll just chug on in.”
The 52-year-old entered the race with what he considered one of his fastest Iditarod teams and had been aiming for nothing short of another title. In a way, he said, it’s been a heartbreaking to compete against his son.
“If I were on the sidelines not racing, obviously I’d want him to win. And yet I’m trying to race to win, so there’s a conflict there,” he said before leaving Koyuk in 5th place.
Dan Seavey — Mitch’s 74-year-old father and Dallas’s grandfather — is also racing this year and was in Nulate late Monday night, 55th among 57 mushers.
BIG BUCKS AT STAKE
The coastal trail leading to White Mountain is drawn along mostly parchment-flat sea ice surrounded in places by ice jumbles and wind-whipped snow caps. It is made grueling by the climb up Little McKinley, a saddle in the Kwiktalik Mountains.
Dallas Seavey, in his all-black snow gear, could be seen kicking hard on the runners of his sled, roughly a mile ahead of Zirkle as the pair approached Elim.
The battle for the top 10 spots — worth about $360,000 in combined race winnings — is as competitive as ever.
Several of the top contenders camped briefly Monday in Koyuk for a lunchtime rest. Ramey Smyth bolted out of the checkpoint just before noon, jumping from seventh place to fourth. He was in third place by the time he left Elim.
Runner-up in the 2011 Iditarod, the Willow musher was near the middle of the pack earlier in the race but speedily began leapfrogging teams as the leaders neared Nome.
Ray Redington Jr., eighth to arrive in Koyuk, watched him go.
“He’s a brave soul,” Redington said. The grandson of Iditarod founder Joe Redington, the 36-year-old opened a pack of Marlboros with red, bare fingers in the searing daylight cold.
“Hey Pete!” Redington called to 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 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.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
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,” he said.
Kaiser said it may be too late for his team and others trailing Seavey and Zirkle to challenge for the win.
“(We’re) more trying to get the best position,” he said. “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.”
Unlike 2011, mushers have complained of sluggish trails for much of the race.
“These guys have all been saying since they hit the Kaltag portage that the trail conditions have been really, really slow,” said race judge Andy Anderson. Cold, dry snow has made for tough sledding in places, he said.
After an eight-hour stop in White Mountain, the leaders will launch for the finish line sometime Tuesday morning. A $50,400 check and new pickup truck await the winner 77 miles away in Nome.