ANCHORAGE -- Eight mushers left Dawson City, Yukon Territory, by early Saturday evening on their way to the first American checkpoint at Eagle in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
Rested after a mandatory 36-hour layover, all leading mushers left as soon as they were allowed for the 150-mile leg to Eagle via the Yukon River.
Lead mushers are expected into Eagle on Sunday afternoon or evening.
William Kleedehn left at 11:35 a.m. Tim Osmar, the first musher to reach Dawson, hit the trail 14 minutes later at 11:49 a.m.
Dave Sawatzky followed at 12:39 p.m. Andrew Lesh left at 1:51 p.m., Joran Freeman at 2:38 p.m. and John Schandelmeier at 3:24 p.m.
Hugh Neff and Ed Hopkins left by 4:30 p.m., and Frank Turner and Carrie Farr were expected out by 7 p.m.
Race observer Dave Monson, a former Quest champion, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that he was not surprised to see Osmar, Kleedehn and Sawatzky leading the pack.
''I think Tim's in the driver's seat,'' Monson said of front-runner Osmar. ''His dogs looked very happy coming in here.''
Osmar wasn't the only one with strong dogs. Kleedehn and Sawatzky both had huskies tugging at the gangline while checkers inspected their gear upon arrival in Dawson, apparently ready to keep moving down the trail.
Sawatzky, however, suffered what could be a major setback on the way down King Solomon's Dome into Dawson Thursday night. The dome is the race's highest point at 3,800 feet. The Healy musher's sled flipped and a runner crushed his ankle, chipping bone in two places.
''If I move it just right, it makes me want to wet my pants,'' Sawatzky said of his swollen ankle. ''But there's not much I can do about it.''
Paxson Lake musher John Schandelmeier remained in contention entering Dawson. The Quest veteran fell to sixth place on the way from Pelly Crossing, but he still had 14 dogs in harness.
''The two strongest teams without injuries would be John and Tim,'' Monson said.
More of a surprise to the onlookers at Dawson was the fourth-place standing of Andrew Lesh.
Lesh charged into Dawson about four hours behind Osmar with a team of 11 happy-looking young dogs. Lesh finished 10th in last year's Quest but even he admits surprise.
''Yes, I feel good,'' Lesh said while dragging supplies to his campsite across the Yukon River from Dawson on Friday afternoon.
''But on the other hand, have I driven my dogs too fast? Because I've never been in front of John Schandelmeier. He's the man, you know?''
Lesh said he doesn't feel his advantage over mushers in the top dozen is secure, and with more than a hundred miles of jumble ice on the Yukon River out of Eagle still to come, Lesh said the race is far from over.
''So fourth place yes, but there's still many questions,'' the school teacher-turned-cab-driver said. ''I'll just try to schlep on down the trail.''
Twenty-one mushers had reached or left Dawson by early Saturday evening, leaving seven still on their way.
Peninsula Clarion ©2015. All Rights Reserved.