NIKOLAI, Alaska (AP) -- Linwood Fiedler of Willow was the first musher into this Native village Tuesday, followed by Martin Buser and Paul Gebhardt, as leaders in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race cleared the towering Alaska Range and made their way across a bumpy, 93-mile section of the Farewell Burn. They're still 770 miles from Nome.
Fiedler arrived in Nikolai at 8:01 a.m., followed by Buser at 8:26 and Gebhardt at 8:55 a.m. Veteran Jerry Riley, who won the race in 1976, was fourth into Nikolai at 10:01, followed by defending champion Doug Swingley at 10:15 a.m.
Also into Nikolai by noon Tuesday were Mitch Seavey, Rick Swenson, Sonny King, Jeff King, and Rick Mackey
Gebhardt was the first musher to leave the checkpoint at the abandoned Rohn Roadhouse. He departed at 6:45 p.m., about 40 minutes ahead of Jeff King, a three-time winner from Denali Park.
Swingley, from Lincoln, Mont., left at 7:52 p.m. Seavey, from Seward, logged out at 8:07 p.m.
Then came DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow, at 8:26 p.m.; Jon Little of Kasilof at 8:45; Daniel Govoni from Wasilla at 8:49, and Mackey, the 1983 winner, at 8:53 p.m.
Swenson, the Iditarod's only five-time champion, left Rohn at 9:03 p.m. Vern Halter, another perennial front-runner from Willow, checked out at 9:13. Fiedler didn't leave until 10:55, and Buser departed at 11:10 p.m.
Buser, a three-time Iditarod champ, has already dropped five dogs from his team, and is running with just 11, the smallest team among the leaders. Fiedler still has his original 16, while Gebhardt has 14.
The Farewell Burn is a sled-battering section of tundra blown clear of snow in places. Stumps from a 1984 controlled burn often poke through the snowdrifts, making a nighttime run challenging.
King said his only worry Monday was that he might have a team with too much energy for the 30 miles of bare ground reported in the country north of Rohn. He was afraid his dogs would have too much traction and want to barrel through there.
''They just pour it on, and you're like a rag doll hanging on'' to the sled, King said.
The 1,100-mile Iditarod is a mushing marathon from Anchorage to Nome.
Sixty-eight teams began the race Saturday. Two have scratched.
Teams are vying for a share of a record $550,000 purse, with the winner taking home more than $62,000 and a new pickup truck.
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