Gregg Hickman, from McMillan, Mich., drives his dog team across melted snow and tundra outside of Unalakleet, Alaska as he makes his way to Nome in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Tuesday, March 15, 2005. Norwegian Robert Sorlie is in the lead in the 1,100-mile sled dog race.
AP Photo/ Al Grillo
UNALAKLEET, Alaska The church bell rang and the whole village came out to welcome Robert Sorlie on Tuesday when he arrived at the White Mountain checkpoint, just 77 miles from the finish line of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog.
The 47-year-old Norwegian, who held the same commanding lead when he won the 2003 race, was the first musher to reach the village of White Mountain, an Eskimo village of 200. Sorlie arrived a minute before 1 p.m. with eight dogs and will be able to leave for the final homestretch of the 1,100-mile race after fulfilling a mandatory 8-hour layover.
Kathy Chapotone, wife of four-time Iditarod winner Martin Buser, watched the small town celebrate Sorlie's arrival.
''He was tired, but his dogs looked strong,'' she said. ''They had to go through 2-foot snowdrifts. It was a lot of work.''
After White Mountain, there's just one more checkpoint, Safety, and then it's 22 miles to Nome.
Ed Iten of Kotzebue and defending champion Mitch Seavey of Seward followed Sorlie into White Mountain, arriving at 2:50 and 2:56 p.m., respectively.
Earlier Tuesday, Sorlie was the first musher to leave the Elim checkpoint 123 miles from Nome, departing at 4:17 a.m. after resting his dogs for three hours. He was followed about three hours later by a pack of front-runners on a trail marked by wet, soft snow and temperatures hovering just above freezing.
From Elim, the trail heads to Golovin 28 miles away, following the ice along the coast then inland across the Kwitalik Mountains, a range of hills with moderate grades. After White Mountain, the trail briefly goes inland before skimming along the coast, an area subject to blinding winds.
Second out of Elim was John Baker, who left almost three hours after Sorlie. He was closely followed by Seavey, Ramy Brooks runner-up to Sorlie in 2003 and Iten.
Next out were Norwegian rookie Bjornar Andersen, Sorlie's nephew, and Paul Gebhardt.
The closest contenders have up to three more dogs than Sorlie, who dropped another in Elim. He also won with eight dogs in 2003.
All mushers begin the race with 16 dogs and must finish with at least five. Mushers often drop off dogs that are sick, slow or too tired to continue.
Eleven mushers have withdrawn. Among the 68 teams 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.
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