RUBY, Alaska (AP) — The jostling at the front of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race continued Friday with defending champion Lance Mackey regaining the lead during the run to this scenic village on the Yukon River.
The Fairbanks musher was the first to leave the race's halfway point, the Cripple checkpoint, late Thursday. He took off nearly two-and-a-half hours ahead of Hans Gatt of Whitehorse, Yukon, on the 112-mile leg to Ruby.
The first musher into Ruby is feted by the community with a bounty of food — a seven-course meal — and $5,000 in $1 bills.
Other mushers en route to Ruby were four-time winner Jeff King of Denali Park; the race's only five-time winner, Rick Swenson of Two Rivers; Kjetil Backen of Norway; Aaron Burmeister of Nome; and 2004 champion Mitch Seavey of Seward.
On Thursday, DeeDee Jonrowe was flabbergasted — and a few thousand dollars richer — when she beat Paul Gebhardt to the halfway mark at Cripple.
"No, no, isn't Paul here?" the popular veteran musher from Willow asked race volunteers as she arrived at the tent checkpoint at 6:22 a.m. Thursday, followed eight minutes later by Gebhardt, last year's runner-up. For being the first to the official halfway point, the 54-year-old won $3,000 in gold nuggets.
Jonrowe had passed a musher going the wrong way. But she never expected it to be the 50-year-old Gebhardt, who left the previous checkpoint nearly six hours before her. He was obviously lost, wasting crucial time in the 1,100-mile race. In 2006, Gebhardt's sled slammed into a tree and he temporarily lost his dog team, but went on to finish third in the race.
What a race!