King takes Iditarod lead from Zirkle; Dallas Seavey bolts into third

Jeff King overtook Aliy Zirkle early Monday morning in the 2014 Iditarod. King took off from Elim about 1 a.m. and Zirkle, who had battled King and Martin Buser for the lead, left less than 10 minutes later.

Dallas Seavey, who won two years ago, jumped into third place and was out of Elim about 2:52 this morning. While Zirkle, and King had spent more than an hour in Elim, Seavey was in and out of the checkpoint in minutes.

As of early Monday morning, the leaders looked liked this:

King. Zirkle. Dallas Seavey.

Mitch Seavey had passed Buser. Sonny Lindner was racing right behind Buser. All were out of Elim.

Earlier on the trail dogs and mushers were showing signs of fatigue on the Yukon River.

Jeff Kings feeds his dogs after their run into Nulato. Some teams stayed long in the sleepy village, while others pushed on down the trial. (Photo by Emily Schwing/KUAC)

Jeff Kings feeds his dogs after their run into Nulato. Some teams stayed long in the sleepy village, while others pushed on down the trial. (Photo by Emily Schwing/KUAC)

Iditarod mushers kept volunteers in the Nulato checkpoint busy overnight. Some teams that weren’t expected to stay grabbed a few hours rest in the sleepy Yukon River village, while others who could have used the rest decided to blow through.

Martin Buser says his dog team didn’t have much of a challenge traveling down the Yukon River this year.

“They were bored getting down that trail slow and steady and kind of a punchy, drifted trail,” he said.

Buser’s quiet team curled up for a nap almost immediately after they arrived in Nulato.  Sonny Lindner arrived shortly after.  His dogs wolfed down the food he offered.  He says his dog team is showing signs of fatigue from the early rough trail.

“That trail was really rough at the start and once you get on the good going, and everybody starts trotting right along then all those places that got sore earlier start showing up,” he said.

Lindner spent his eight hour mandatory rest massaging sore shoulders and wrapping sore wrists. He could have waited to rest long in Kaltag, but he says Nulato is much quieter.

Checkpoint volunteers were surprised when Aliy Zirkle announced she planned to stay for a few hours in. Her team came in alert, tails wagging. She stopped to make what she calls a “significant force reduction.”

“I had to reduce my squad by two dogs: Joe Schmoe and Scruggs, so we made a significant equipment reduction. I just lost about 40 pounds off the back of my sled,” she said.

Zirkle left behind all kinds of gear she doesn’t think she’ll need.  She says 12 dogs is actually the perfect number, plus it’s eight fewer feet to booty, two personalities less to deal with and a little less food to carry. As for the river travel, Zirkle says what’s normally a monotonous run seemed to go by quickly.

“Yeah, I don’t feel like the river’s been that long for me this time,” Zirkle said.

As teams come off the Yukon in Kaltag, they’ll tackle what is a reportedly snow free trail in place all the way to Unalakleet, but that’s nothing new for mushers this year.

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