Only two years after a humbling defeat near the shores of the Bering Sea, grizzled Jeff King from the community of Denali Park in the heart of Alaska is poised to claim the crown as one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champions of all time.
Superlatives were seldom in short supply during this Iditarod, a race that will be remembered for its lack of snow as much as a pace that may see more than a half-dozen mushers break the record time of 8 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes.
Could the 58-year-old Jeff King of Denali Park finally join Rick Swenson as the Iditarod's only five-time champions? Days ago, King was hours behind. Now, he was neck and neck -- pulling into the Koyuk checkpoint just a minute behind Aliy Zirkle before grabbing the lead by leaving one minute ahead of her at 5:50 p.m.
The Iditarod race trail along the Norton Sound coast is icy and hard. Glare, windswept ice will challenge teams already fatigued by more than 800 miles of racing. Although challenging for the drivers, the icy trail usually proves to be easy pulling and fast for the dogs.
Led by Aliy Zirkle, the frontrunners came speeding into Unalakleet Saturday afternoon. With no more guessing where mushers will take mandatory rest, the rest of the Iditarod will simply be a 265-mile race to the finish.
Nine months after the worst flood in 100 years left the Yukon River town of Galena struggling to rebuild, things are slowly coming back to their regular pace. One thing that's helping? The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
For the first Iditarod musher to reach Ruby, the checkpoint brings the promise of a gourmet meal. For the rest of the field, while there's no champagne, Ruby is still a milestone, marking the beginning of a long stretch of mushing along the Yukon River.
In the beginning, this year's Iditarod was more about surviving treacherous conditions, but it has shifted to a chess match as the leaders reach Ruby. Whose moves will pay off biggest is anyone's guess.