NIKOLAI, Alaska (CP) - Linwood Fiedler was the first musher to arrive at this village Tuesday, with leaders of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race clearing the towering Alaska Range and making their way across a bumpy, 150-kilometer section of the Farewell Burn.
Fiedler arrived in Nikolai at 8:01 a.m. He was followed by Martin Buser at 8:26 a.m. and Paul Gebhardt at 8:55 a.m. Hans Gatt of Atlin, B.C., was the first Canadian to reach Rohn, leaving at 9:18 p.m. in 14th place.
Buser, a three-time Iditarod champ, has already dropped five dogs from his team, and is running with 11. 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 night run challenging.
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 three-time winner Jeff King.
Doug Swingley, the defending champion and another three-time winner, left at 7:52 p.m. Mitch Seavey logged out at 8:07 p.m.
Then came DeeDee Jonrowe at 8:26 p.m.; Jon Little at 8:45; Daniel Govoni at 8:49, and Rick Mackey, the 1983 winner, at 8:53 p.m.
Rick 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.
Karen Ramstead of Perryvale, Alta., left Rainy Pass, the checkpoint before Rohn, in 53rd place. Clinton Warnke of Christopher Lake, Sask., left Rainy Pass in 61st. Rob Carss of Cochrane, Alta., had reached Finger Lake, the checkpoint before Rainy Pass, and was 63rd.
King said his only worry Monday was that he might have a team with too much energy for the 48 kilometers 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," King said.
The 1,770-kilometer Iditarod is a mushing marathon from Anchorage to Nome. 68 teams began the race Saturday. Two have scratched.
Teams are vying for a share of a record $550,000 US purse, with the winner taking home more than $62,000 US and a new pickup truck.