Aaron Burmeister was the first musher out of Unalakleet late Sunday afternoon, a checkpint some 220 miles from the finish in Nome, but GPS tracking shows he has been passed on the trail by Dallas Seavey, who is now leading the 2012 Iditarod. Ally Zirkle is running in third place.
The stretch from Unalakleet is the beginning of the trail going along the coast of the Norton Sound, taking mushers through Shaktoolik, Koyuk, Elim, Golovin, White Mountain, Safety and then, the finish line in Nome. But many expect that the first person to reach White Mountain -- and its mandator eight-hour layover -- will win the Iditarod, which might change the strategy:
Rather than rest their dogs at checkpoints between Unalakleet and White Mountain, a musher could split the overall 170-mile-or-so run into comfortable, bite-sized segments, resting wherever they see fit along the trail.
The Iditarod now allows mushers to use GPS units in their sleds, which makes it easier to determine precisely how far they've traveled between checkpoints. Zirkle said that's how she gauged her run through Ruby.
As the Iditarod nears its conclusion, and as strategy potential changes, the race may very well come down to its most obvious factor: speed.
Dallas Seavey is planning longer runs along the coast, and it is looking like his team is up for the challenge, benefitting from the extra rest Seavey gave the dogs earlier in the race.
"We were taking extra rest. We were building speed," Seavey said of his end-game tactics. "And speed pays dividends and it will last for as long as I need it to, which will be somewhere around Nome."
Seavey's turbo-charged dogs could trail the leader to White Mountain by as much as 40 minutes and still win, he said. He's already started running alongside his sled at times.
One thing is for certain, no matter the race strategy: this section of the Iditarod has the potential to be some of the most unforgiving miles: