Aliy Zirkle took the overall lead at the 2014 Iditarod with a strong run on Saturday, claiming the Gold Coast Award as the first musher to arrive at the Bering Sea coast.
Zirkle passed Friday's leader Martin Buser along the route from Nulato to Unalakleet, and she was also the first to reach the checkpoint in between at Kaltag. However, Zirkle didn't realize she was in first place until her day was nearly done, per Casey Grove of the Anchorage Daily News:
As gold nuggets were poured into a pan -- her prize for being the leader here -- Zirkle said she didn't know she was leading the race until the final eight miles of her run from Kaltag, when she asked a snowmachiner how far ahead Martin Buser was.
"He not in front of you, he's behind you," the snowmachiner told her.
Zirkle reached Unalakleet 52 minutes ahead of Buser, but the story is how quickly the pack has reached the Bering Sea Coast. When Zirkle left the Kaltag checkpoint at 3:18 a.m. on Saturday, that was a full 18 hours ahead of the record pace set by John Baker in 2011, per Zach Steer of the Alaska Dispatch. Baker set an Iditarod record that year by completing the race in eight days, 18 hours and 46 minutes.
The 44-year-old Zirkle is bidding to become the first female champion of the Iditarod in 24 years. She was greeted by her father in Unalakleet:
Here are the top mushers through Unalakleet.