White Mountain, AK - The first few Iditarod teams are into White Mountain. They will rest for a mandatory eight hours before the move on through Safety and into Nome where they will cross the finish line.
Jeff King was the first musher to pull into White Mountain. King’s team overtook Aliy Zirkle’s somewhere outside of Koyuk, but he says he wasn’t sure if he’d manage to maintain the lead. “Because as I have done many times, I underestimated the speed of her team and what she’d get out of it. She was only a few minutes behind me in Elim, so she must have had a great run too, because mine was really, really, really great.”
As teams leave Elim, they have to tackle a few steep climbs before they drop onto a frozen lagoon, where the trail is mostly glare ice this year. It’s also a route notorious for high wind, so King was more than happy for the relatively calm weather. “If there was the teeniest gust of wind, we all just blew. If it blew for real, nobody would get up there.”
Despite a lack of wind, Aliy Zirkle was surprised by how slippery the trail was. “It’s pretty interesting," she says. "I wouldn’t have guessed it had been like that, but it is!” Zirkle’s lead dog, Quito also threw her for a loop as she was leaving the checkpoint in Elim. “She chewed both of her tug lines when I was in Elim and I guess one was chewed all the way through, so I had them lined out on the pack ice and I was like ‘Ready?’ and she was like ‘zoom!’ at like 20 miles an hour.” Zirkle found Quito sitting in the trail waiting for the rest of the team a short while later. It’s just another story to add to a long list of mushers’mishaps this year.
“It’s so funny at this part of the race. You look forward to it all year and then you get here and you’re like ‘Oh my God, I want it to end.’”
If Zirkle can find a way to regain her lead, she'll be the first woman to win the race since four-time cahmpion Suan Butcher last claimed the Championship in 1990. If 58-year old Jeff King arrives in Nome first, he will be the oldest musher to win the race. He’ll also be the second musher to win race five times. Whoever makes it to Nome first will likely set a new race record, butu they’ll have to find a way to find off teams that are still gunning from behind.