TAKOTNA Four-time winner Doug Swingley, blinded in one eye, dropped out of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Wednesday.
''I got to go see an eye doctor,'' he said, as he walked toward a plane to take him to Anchorage, leading one of his dogs on leash and carrying his sled snow hook in the other hand. ''He doesn't want me to continue.''
The 50-year-old Lincoln, Mont., musher said he froze his corneas when he took off his goggles because they were fogging up going down the Dalzell Gorge two days ago coming into Rohn, he said.
The problem got worse and by the time Swingley arrived at the Takotna lodge checkpoint, 694 miles from the Nome finish line, he said he was blind in one eye.
''You work so hard to be here and then have something like that take you out,'' said Ramy Brooks of Healy, who came in second in 2003 and 2002. ''I just hope his eyes are going to be all right. His eyesight is more important than the race.''
Vern Halter of Willow, racing in his 16th Iditarod, said when he was spoke with Swingley in the morning, he noticed that one of his eyes was watering.
''It is kind of a shame. I hope he's going to be all right,'' Halter said. ''I don't think he had much choice.''
Thirty-eight miles farther up the trail, three-time Iditarod winner Jeff King of Denali Park was the first musher out of the Ophir checkpoint Wednesday.
Four-time winner Martin Buser of Big Lake was right behind, departing seven minutes later. In the third position was John Baker of Kotzebue.
Also Wednesday, race marshal Mark Nordman reported that Wolf, a 5-year-old male dog in the team of musher Lance Mackey of Kasilof died Tuesday on the trail. A necropsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death.
A record 87 mushers, including four former champions, are competing in the 2004 Iditarod. This year's purse is more than $700,000 with a first-place prize of $69,000 and a new Dodge truck.
From Ophir to the Cripple checkpoint a distance of 60 miles mushers follow a cat trail across the Innoko River in generally flat sparse terrain with a few rolling hills.
It normally takes mushers nine or 10 days total to reach Nome, but race officials are expecting a fast-paced race this year because of good trail conditions.
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