Mitch Seavey and Aaron Burmeister were at the front of the pack as Iditiard mushers arrived at Unalakleet on the Norton Sound on Sunday afternoon.
Seavey passed Burmeister during the 85-mile run from Kaltag and arrived 14 minutes ahead of his competitor. More than just the honor of leading the race was on the line. For being the first to reach the checkpoint, Seavey received the Wells Fargo Gold Coast Award and was presented with $2,500 in gold nuggets.
Each took about a five-hour stop before heading out to Shaktoolik just 15 minutes apart. Seavey, who won the Iditarod in 2004, dropped one dog, giving him 10 of the 16 competitors are allowed to begin the race with. Burmeister dropped two to reach 11 dogs.
Shaktoolik is 40 miles down the trail. After that there are just four more checkpoints between the pair and victory in Nome.
Should Seavey hold on, it would be the second year in a row the family enjoyed championship laurels. Dallas Seavey, Mitch's son, became the youngest musher ever to win the Iditarod in 2012.
"It was a long run. I think my dogs are kind of tired from yesterday on the river," Seavey told the Associated Press. "So much deep snow and hot, but they are hanging in there. Not as quick as I would like to be, but quick enough for today I guess."
Former champion Jeff King left Unalakleet in third, and Aliy Zirkle, who finished as runner-up in 2012, left the checkpoint in fourth.
Dallas Seavey and Martin Buser, who had been on a record-setting pace as of Friday night and still led Saturday, have reached Unalakleet but have not left it yet.
All the mushers and their teams are tired after a week on the trail. The Anchorage Daily News reported Jake Birkowitz, still resting at Unalakleet, has the flu. Zirkle said the run from Kaltag was rough. Her time was several hours behind the leaders for that section of the trail. "My wheels haven't fallen off, but it's not a perfect ride," she told the Daily News.