Dallas Seavey, a
22 23-year old running just his fourth Iditarod, was the first musher to reach the halfway checkpoint of Cripple, checking into the abandoned gold-mining town at 5:26 a.m. ET Thursday morning. His reward: $3,000 in gold nuggets. Which is nice, but probably doesn't do a lot to keep you warm when it's -33 degrees.
John Baker and Martin Buser are the only other two teams that have reached Cripple so far, but some of the best mushers in the world are closing in.
Four-time champion Jeff King of Denali Park led the charge out of the ghost town of Ophir at 3 a.m. after finishing his mandatory 24-hour layover. King dropped one dog, leaving him with 15.
Before 5 a.m., Hugh Neff of Tok, Sebastian Schnuelle of Whitehorse, Mitch Seavey of Sterling [Dallas' dad], Sven Haltmann of Willow and Zach Steer of Sheep Mountain had followed King out with fresh teams of at least 14 dogs.
And they'll all need their teams as rested as can be -- the run from Ophir to Cripple, and then Cripple to Ruby, goes through some of the "most desolate terrain on the Iditarod Trail." Which is saying something.
Behind the first two groups, another pack of mushers who took their 24-hour rests in Takotna were back on the trail, too. In that group were five-time champion Rick Swenson, and former runners-up Paul Gebhardt and DeeDee Jonrowe, joined by Ken Anderson of Fox, Jason Barron of Lincoln, Mont., and Ryan Redington of Wasilla.
Winner of the past three Iditarods, Lance Mackey, was out of Ophir in 11th place, but is down to just 13 dogs.