UNALAKLEET, Alaska Norwegian Robert Sorlie was the first musher to reach Koyuk on Monday night, moving quickly through the coastal village after a 3-minute stop at one of the last checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
The next stop is Elim, 48 miles away, and then just three more checkpoints and 123 miles to go to the burled-arch finish line at Nome.
Defending champion Mitch Seavey of Seward arrived at Koyuk 40 minutes after Sorlie, 171 miles from the end of the race. Ramy Brooks of Healy was next, 51 minutes later.
Earlier Monday, Sorlie was first out of Shaktoolik on windswept Norton Sound. The 47-year-old firefighter from Hurdal rested his dogs for 5:05 before setting out on the 48-mile run to Koyuk. He dropped two dogs in Shaktoolik, continuing with nine. In 2003, Sorlie won his second Iditarod with eight dogs. All mushers must begin the race with at least 16 dogs and must finish with at least five.
Seavey rested his dogs for just 22 minutes before chasing after Sorlie.
Four-time winner Martin Buser of Big Lake left off 27 minutes after Seavey, having rested his dogs for nearly 4 1/2 hours.
Buser dropped one dog in Shaktoolik, and pushed on with nine. He attached a note to the dropped dog that read: ''Hi Doc, I'm 'Iris,' 2 1/2-year-old female. Tired and not fast enough for this team. Take good care of me, lots of straw, etc.''
Buser was followed out 30 minutes later by Brooks, runner-up to Sorlie in 2003. Brooks, who rested his 12 dogs for more than five hours in Shaktoolik, apparently passed Buser on the trail.
Temperatures above freezing and winds up to 40 mph were forecast for Monday night from Shaktoolik to Koyuk. The stretch is among the windiest segments of the race, running mushers out onto the ice of Norton Bay.
After Koyuk, most of the route is over land.
Though Sorlie has held the lead over wet, slushy trail since the halfway point at Iditarod, his dogs had been slowing, running just under 6 mph Monday afternoon, according to Iditarod officials.
But by evening they were running almost 10 mph, faster than his nearest rivals.
Fifth out of Shaktoolik was Lance Mackey of Kasilof, who won the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race less than three weeks ago. He was followed 20 minutes later by three-time Iditarod winner Jeff King of Denali Park. Within 10 minutes, Ed Iten of Kotzebue, DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow and veteran John Baker of Kotzebue were right behind them.
Four-time winner Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont., and Norwegian rookie Bjornar Andersen Sorlie's nephew left together almost two hours later.
Mushers still must take a mandatory eight-hour layover at White Mountain, 77 miles from Nome. All have taken the required 24-hour rest and an earlier mandatory eight.
Among the 68 mushers still in the running, legally blind rookie Rachael Scdoris of Bend, Ore., was near the end of the pack.
The winner of the 33rd running of the Iditarod will receive $72,066.67 and a pickup truck. The total purse this year is $750,107, of which $705,000 will go to the top 30 finishers.
On the Net:
Iditarod Trail Committee: www.iditarod.com
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