ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Four-time champion Martin Buser held on to the lead Saturday in Alaska's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but his closest chasers were gaining on him, their dogs averaging faster speeds.
Buser is hoping to be only the second musher to ever claim a fifth title in the race's 40-year-history. But plenty of competitors were hot in pursuit in the 1,000-mile race. Teams have been traveling in deep snow followed by deep overflows in a trail on the Yukon River deteriorated by above-freezing temperatures. Some stretches also were marked by glare ice.
On the seventh day of the race, Buser was first to reach the checkpoint at Kaltag, 346 miles from the finish line in the old gold rush town of Nome on Alaska's western coast. The 54-year-old veteran from Big Lake, Alaska, arrived in Kaltag with 11 dogs at 2:24 p.m. Saturday. Earlier Saturday, he dropped two dogs at the checkpoint at Eagle Island.
Last year's runner-up, Aliy Zirkle, left Eagle Island with 13 dogs more than three hours after Buser, but her team traveled faster and she came within several miles of him before stopping her team to rest in a "nice and sunny spot" on the snow-covered Yukon River eight miles before Kaltag, according to veteran musher and former Iditarod racer Sebastian Schnuelle, who is traveling along the trail and keeping a blog on the Iditarod website. Schnuelle said he encountered Zirkle when he reached her by snowmobile.
"Her dogs had just finished a meal," he wrote. "When talking to her, she told me she did not want to run longer than 8 hrs, that is why she camped."