Aliy Zirkle is in first place of the 2014 Iditarod as the race reaches Unalakleet, but about a quarter of the race remains before a winner is crowned. The next stage of the race takes the mushers from Unalakleet to Shaktoolik.
The 44-year-old Zirkle is in search of her first Iditarod crown, and reached Unalakleet 52 minutes ahead of Martin Buser, a four-time winner who last won the race in 2002.
Through Unalakleet, the riders have traveled 754 miles of the 975-mile challenge, with just seven stages remaining. The trek north to Shaktoolik is just under 40 miles, and the following leg to Koyuk runs about 50 miles.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
The key in both legs will be the wind, as explained by Donald Bowers Jr.:
Shaktoolik is windy even in good weather, but under some conditions the winds can blow from the north at more than hurricane force, with temperatures well below zero and chill factors worse than minus one hundred. If the winds are howling, the trail from Unalakleet to the top of the Blueberry Hills will be relatively sheltered (except on the ridge tops), but the last 12 miles out to Shaktoolik can be extremely difficult with drifts and ground blizzards.
Fortunately, the weather forecast for Shaktoolik looks relatively tame on Sunday, with winds between 15-25 mph, coupled with a high of seven degrees.