Led by four-time Iditarod winner Jeff King, mushers began leaving the Nikolai checkpoint starting shortly after 7 p.m. ET Tuesday night. Within 27 minutes, three other mushers were hot on his trail: last year's second-place finisher Sebastian Schnuelle, John Baker and 2004 champion Mitch Seavey.
In recent years, the winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has come from among the frontrunners into Nikolai, the village at the far end of the Farewell Burn.
This year, the group was more a herd than a pack. By 3:06 p.m. Tuesday, 21 mushers were parked in Nikolai. Most had made the 80-mile run from Rohn in under 11 hours. Many had 15 or 16 dogs in harness.
The teams are leaving behind Nikolai, a town of around 100 people along the Kuskokwim River where the only "roads" are snowmachine tracks. On Tuesday, the tiny village became "a parking lot for sleds and snoozing dog teams" in the afternoon.
The leaders are now on their way to McGrath, which with its population of around 347 people, is one of the bigger stops on the trail. Because of this, it's where most mushers choose to take their mandatory 24-hour rest. Well that, and the $0.25 showers -- a quarter buys you six minutes of a hot shower.
And now, here's a picture of one of the sled dogs in Nikolai, resting on its straw bed.