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Jeff King out of the Iditarod, scratches in Safety

Casey Grove
Paul Gebhardt, of Kasilof, AK, leaves the start line during the ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014. 140301
Bob Hallinen
The dog team of Dan Kaduce of Chatanika heads down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Gus Guenther of Clam Gulch, Alaska, leaves the starting line. Racing began for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Willow Lake on Sunday afternoon, March 2, 2014. Sixty-nine teams started this year's Iditarod.
Marc Lester
Dallas Seavey's daughter, Annie, plays in her dad's dog truck. Racing began for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Willow Lake on Sunday afternoon, March 2, 2014. Sixty-nine teams started this year's Iditarod.
Marc Lester
Jason Mackey will carry an urn of ashes taped to his handle bars for part of this year's Iditarod. Racing began for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Willow Lake on Sunday afternoon, March 2, 2014. Sixty-nine teams started this year's Iditarod.
Marc Lester
A musher drives his dog team down the chute during the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, AK on Sunday, March 2, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
A musher drives his dog team in front of Mount Foraker, Mount Hunter and Mount McKinley just after the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race out of Willow, AK on Sunday, March 2, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Iditarod checkers Susanne Rieder and Michelle Keagle work in the cook area as they wait for mushers at the Finger Lake checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday evening, March 2, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
DeeDee Jonrowe sleeps on her sled at the Rainy Pass checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 3, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Ramey Smyth drives his dog team into the Rainy Pass checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 3, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
John Baker comes into the Finger Lake checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday morning, March 3, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Ralph Johannessen, from Dagali, Norway, rolls his sled as he comes down the steps onto the Happy River between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 3, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Rick Casillo comes over the last drop as he comes down the steps onto the Happy River between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 3, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Hugh Neff drives his dog team out of the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Christian Turner and two dogs pull the sled across a small stream in the middle of the Farewell Burn during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. The rest of his team waited along the trail less then a mile ahead of him.
Bob Hallinen
Anna Berington mushes down the Iditarod Trail in the middle of the Farewell Burn during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Jake Berkowitz and his team wait for help next to the trail in the middle of the Farewell Burn during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Berkowitz's sled is busted beyond repair and he scratched.
Bob Hallinen
Musher Hans Gatt has dried blood around his eyes after coming off the Farewell Burn and into the Nikolai checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Gatt hit a tree on the Burn just outside of Rohn.
Bob Hallinen
Musher Jason Mackey winces with pain as he moves his arm in the school cafeteria at the Nikolai checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Flash, a team dog for musher Mike Williams Jr., rests on his bed of straw at the Nikolai checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race at sunrise on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Aaron Burmeister's sled dogs rest at the Nikolai checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Burmeister injured his knee about 18 miles past the Rohn checkpoint on the snowless Farewell Burn. His knee popped out and he had to tape it up so it would stay in place.
Bob Hallinen
One of Hans Gatt's dogs is ready to go as Gatt made a brief stop at the Yukon River village of Kaltag during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
A stuffed toy husky wearing a helmet sits on the front of the sled of Nicolas Petit at the Nikolai checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Ray Redington Jr. of Wasilla, Ak., rubs medication into Shrek‰Ûªs leg at the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Iditarod Air Force pilot Wes Erb loads dropped dogs into his Cessna 180 at the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
An Iditarod musher drives his team down the Yukon River after leaving the Ruby checkpoint and heading towards Galena during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
An Iditarod musher drives his team down the Yukon River after leaving the Ruby checkpoint and heading towards Galena during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Ray Redington Jr., from Wasilla, Ak., feeds his dogs next to the Ruby Bible Church at the Ruby checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Ramey Smyth, from Willow, Ak., arrives at the Ruby checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
A dog of Ralph Johannessen, from Dagali, Norway, rests on a bed of straw at the Takotna checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. 140306
Bob Hallinen
Musher Karin Hendrickson reacts while watching a video of fellow musher Jeff King driving his dog team through the Dalzell Gorge at the Takotna checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Musher Hugh Neff, from Tok, AK, went through the Takotna checkpoint without stopping to rest during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Martin Buser is second into the Unalakleet checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The dogs of Iditarod musher Allen Moore, from Two Rivers, AK, howl as they prepare to leave the Takotna checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Aliy Zirkle accepts the Wells Fargo Gold Coast Award for the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Hans Gatt drives his team off the Yukon River into the village of Kaltag during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Aliy Zirkle drives her dog team across the portage from Kaltag to Unalakleet. Zirkle is the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Aliy Zirkle drives her dog team into the Unalakleet Checkpoint. Zirkle is first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Euro rests next to the back of Iditarod musher Richie DiehlÍs snow and frost plastered sled at the Unalakleet checkpoint at sunrise during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
A Sonny Lindner team dog rests its head on the snow at the Koyuk checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
John Baker arrives at the Unalakleet checkpoint at sunrise during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Iditarod musher Jessie Royer, from Darby, MT, mushes over bare tundra on the Blueberry Hills out of the Unalakleet checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
An Iditarod musher crosses a frozen pond between the Shaktoolik and Koyuk checkpoints during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Harald Nassuk and his sister Tara Nassuk, who holds a sign welcoming the mushers to Koyuk, pose for a photo at the Koyuk checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Iditarod musher Martin Buser, from Big Lake, AK, comes in off the ice through a cut in a pile of ice pushed up near the shore in Koyuk during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Iditarod musher Martin Buser, from Big Lake, AK, comes in off the ice and into the Koyuk checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Iditarod musher Aliy Zirkle, from Two Rivers, AK, arrived second behind Jeff King into the White Mountain checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 10, 2014. Zirkle cares for her dog team at the checkpoint.
Bob Hallinen
Iditarod musher, from Denali, AK, leans on his sled and talks about the race and the trail after arriving first into the White Mountain checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 10, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Dallas Seavey runs down the finish chute with his dog team to the the burled arch in Nome, AK to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 11, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Paul Gebhardt, of Kasilof, AK, leaves the start line during the ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014. 140301
Bob Hallinen
The dog team of Dan Kaduce of Chatanika heads down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Gus Guenther of Clam Gulch, Alaska, leaves the starting line. Racing began for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Willow Lake on Sunday afternoon, March 2, 2014. Sixty-nine teams started this year's Iditarod.
Marc Lester
Dallas Seavey's daughter, Annie, plays in her dad's dog truck. Racing began for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Willow Lake on Sunday afternoon, March 2, 2014. Sixty-nine teams started this year's Iditarod.
Marc Lester
Jason Mackey will carry an urn of ashes taped to his handle bars for part of this year's Iditarod. Racing began for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Willow Lake on Sunday afternoon, March 2, 2014. Sixty-nine teams started this year's Iditarod.
Marc Lester
A musher drives his dog team down the chute during the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, AK on Sunday, March 2, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
A musher drives his dog team in front of Mount Foraker, Mount Hunter and Mount McKinley just after the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race out of Willow, AK on Sunday, March 2, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Iditarod checkers Susanne Rieder and Michelle Keagle work in the cook area as they wait for mushers at the Finger Lake checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday evening, March 2, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
DeeDee Jonrowe sleeps on her sled at the Rainy Pass checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 3, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Ramey Smyth drives his dog team into the Rainy Pass checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 3, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
John Baker comes into the Finger Lake checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday morning, March 3, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Ralph Johannessen, from Dagali, Norway, rolls his sled as he comes down the steps onto the Happy River between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 3, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Rick Casillo comes over the last drop as he comes down the steps onto the Happy River between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 3, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Hugh Neff drives his dog team out of the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Christian Turner and two dogs pull the sled across a small stream in the middle of the Farewell Burn during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. The rest of his team waited along the trail less then a mile ahead of him.
Bob Hallinen
Anna Berington mushes down the Iditarod Trail in the middle of the Farewell Burn during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Jake Berkowitz and his team wait for help next to the trail in the middle of the Farewell Burn during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Berkowitz's sled is busted beyond repair and he scratched.
Bob Hallinen
Musher Hans Gatt has dried blood around his eyes after coming off the Farewell Burn and into the Nikolai checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Gatt hit a tree on the Burn just outside of Rohn.
Bob Hallinen
Musher Jason Mackey winces with pain as he moves his arm in the school cafeteria at the Nikolai checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Flash, a team dog for musher Mike Williams Jr., rests on his bed of straw at the Nikolai checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race at sunrise on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Aaron Burmeister's sled dogs rest at the Nikolai checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Burmeister injured his knee about 18 miles past the Rohn checkpoint on the snowless Farewell Burn. His knee popped out and he had to tape it up so it would stay in place.
Bob Hallinen
One of Hans Gatt's dogs is ready to go as Gatt made a brief stop at the Yukon River village of Kaltag during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
A stuffed toy husky wearing a helmet sits on the front of the sled of Nicolas Petit at the Nikolai checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Ray Redington Jr. of Wasilla, Ak., rubs medication into Shrek‰Ûªs leg at the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Iditarod Air Force pilot Wes Erb loads dropped dogs into his Cessna 180 at the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
An Iditarod musher drives his team down the Yukon River after leaving the Ruby checkpoint and heading towards Galena during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
An Iditarod musher drives his team down the Yukon River after leaving the Ruby checkpoint and heading towards Galena during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Ray Redington Jr., from Wasilla, Ak., feeds his dogs next to the Ruby Bible Church at the Ruby checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Ramey Smyth, from Willow, Ak., arrives at the Ruby checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
A dog of Ralph Johannessen, from Dagali, Norway, rests on a bed of straw at the Takotna checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. 140306
Bob Hallinen
Musher Karin Hendrickson reacts while watching a video of fellow musher Jeff King driving his dog team through the Dalzell Gorge at the Takotna checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Musher Hugh Neff, from Tok, AK, went through the Takotna checkpoint without stopping to rest during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Martin Buser is second into the Unalakleet checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The dogs of Iditarod musher Allen Moore, from Two Rivers, AK, howl as they prepare to leave the Takotna checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Aliy Zirkle accepts the Wells Fargo Gold Coast Award for the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Hans Gatt drives his team off the Yukon River into the village of Kaltag during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Aliy Zirkle drives her dog team across the portage from Kaltag to Unalakleet. Zirkle is the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Aliy Zirkle drives her dog team into the Unalakleet Checkpoint. Zirkle is first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Euro rests next to the back of Iditarod musher Richie DiehlÍs snow and frost plastered sled at the Unalakleet checkpoint at sunrise during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
A Sonny Lindner team dog rests its head on the snow at the Koyuk checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
John Baker arrives at the Unalakleet checkpoint at sunrise during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Iditarod musher Jessie Royer, from Darby, MT, mushes over bare tundra on the Blueberry Hills out of the Unalakleet checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
An Iditarod musher crosses a frozen pond between the Shaktoolik and Koyuk checkpoints during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Harald Nassuk and his sister Tara Nassuk, who holds a sign welcoming the mushers to Koyuk, pose for a photo at the Koyuk checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Iditarod musher Martin Buser, from Big Lake, AK, comes in off the ice through a cut in a pile of ice pushed up near the shore in Koyuk during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Iditarod musher Martin Buser, from Big Lake, AK, comes in off the ice and into the Koyuk checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Iditarod musher Aliy Zirkle, from Two Rivers, AK, arrived second behind Jeff King into the White Mountain checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 10, 2014. Zirkle cares for her dog team at the checkpoint.
Bob Hallinen
Iditarod musher, from Denali, AK, leans on his sled and talks about the race and the trail after arriving first into the White Mountain checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 10, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
Dallas Seavey runs down the finish chute with his dog team to the the burled arch in Nome, AK to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 11, 2014.
Bob Hallinen

This story has been updated. For the latest updates, click here.

-------------

12:40 A.M. UPDATE: 

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

Four-time Iditarod Jeff King has scratched from the race at the Safety checkpoint, according to race officials. 

Here is the full statement. Check back soon for updates.

"King indicated to Race Officials that the wind is severe in the area and he was having difficulty navigating the trail. He stayed with his team for approximately two and one half hours before asking a snowmachiner to help him by taking him to the Safety checkpoint to contact race officials. Jeff and others are moving the team to the Safety checkpoint for the night."

The National Weather Service has issued a brisk wind advisory for the Norton Sound, through Tuesday afternoon.

11:30 P.M. UPDATE: In a shocking reversal, Two Rivers musher Aliy Zirkle passed four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King to arrive first at the Safety checkpoint, just 22 miles from the finish line in Nome.

It was not immediately clear why King's team, which just hours before appeared out of reach for the surging Zirkle, stalled so late in the race. Zirkle averaged nearly 8 mph in the gusting coastal winds en route to Safety.

Check back soon for updates to this breaking story. 

...

Original story:

NOME -- During his eight-hour break Monday in White Mountain, Iditarod leader Jeff King said he wasn't celebrating a fifth victory quite yet.

"I'm not going to figure out what color truck I want till I get to Nome," he said, referring to the new truck awarded to the Iditarod champion, along with $50,000.

Too many unpredictable things can happen in the 77 miles between White Mountain and Nome, he said -- and he was right.

King's 57-minute lead over Aliy Zirkle vanished in the 55-mile run to Safety.

Zirkle, the two-time runnerup from Two Rivers, made up the gap and then some, reaching Safety at 10:53 p.m. She was a mile or two ahead of King, whose team -- according to the race's GPS tracking system -- stopped for some time.

Strong winds and limited visibility were reported in the area. Race analyst Joe Runyan of iditarod.com said "really ferocious" winds up to 45 mph were in an area known as a blow hole.

"The wind just starts to whistle," he said, "and I could see how it could demoralized a dog team and they'd say, whoa, we're gonna stop right here and we're not gonna move till this wind quits."

All of that is speculation.

What is known that Zirkle pulled off the improbable simply by catching King, an idea she entertained at White Mountain.

"I'm going to try to catch him," she said at that checkpoint. "The team looks good."

Barring more unpredictable turns, the Iditarod record book will need a rewrite by Tuesday morning. Zirkle -- driving a team led by a single dog, Quito, a female who helped Zirkle's husband win the Yukon Quest last month -- was on record pace late Monday.

If Zirkle wins, she would be the third woman in race history to claim a championship and the first since Susan Butcher in 1990.

If King, a 58-year-old from Denali Park, is able to rally and reclaim the lead, he would be the oldest winner and would match Rick Swenson for the most victories in the 42-year history of the race.

The milestones are coming despite a trail that hardened veterans described as the most dangerous ever.

A veteran of 24 previous races, King wasn't taking anything for granted despite his comfortable lead in White Mountain. As his mandatory eight-hour layover expired, just before he set his team trotting up the Fish River kicking from his sled runner, a race fan offered him congratulations.

"Well, we'll have to get through this run and then we'll party," King said.

King caught Zirkle in Koyuk, 94 miles up the trail, pulling into that checkpoint one minute behind her and leaving it one minute ahead of her. It was the first time he'd seen her for the entire race, he said.

Out of Koyuk the trail had started rough -- "logs and ice and turns and rocks," King said -- but the team eventually picked up speed.

King said he thought he had pulled away from Zirkle on the run to Elim, but Zirkle was only a few minutes behind.

"As I have done many times, I underestimated the speed of her team, or what she'd get out of it," King said. "She must've had a great run, too, because mine was really, really great.

King opened the gap he was hoping for on the run from Elim to White Mountain.

He reached White Mountain in the pre-dawn darkness where, instead of the usual church bells, subzero temperatures and wind greeted him.

King praised his lead dogs: mother-and-daughter team Skeeter and Zig. They had gotten him across windy and frozen Golovin Bay by bee-lining from trail marker to trail marker while the gusts sent his team skittering across the glare ice.

A faint morning light shone on the horizon as Zirkle's headlamp came into view downriver. Asked how he felt about his lead, King said, "Better every minute."

As Zirkle parked, she said she had trouble leaving Elim. Her prized lead dog, Quito, chewed through the line connecting her to the rest of the team there. When King left, so did Quito. It took some time to wrangle the leader, Zirkle said.

"I knew there were dog eyes, I just didn't know which ones were hers," Zirkle said. "I feel like I got a little far behind."

"I'm happy to be here," she said. "It's so funny, this part of the race. You look forward to the race all year, and you enjoy the race, and then you get here, and you're like, 'Oh my god, I want it to end!' ''

In White Mountain in third and fourth place were 2012 champion Dallas Seavey and his dad, defending champion Mitch Seavey. Both had run similar races, building up their teams in the early days of the race rather than building big leads, and then marching past many others whose dogs were tiring.

For both Seaveys, the competition was so far ahead or so far behind them that they only had to focus on finishing.

"I'm just enjoying the moment," Mitch said while pouring hot water on a mixture of frozen meat and dry dog food. "It's very enjoyable for me, because I have no pressure."

Along with King and Zirkle, the Seaveys were set to break Kotzebue musher John Baker's 2011 speed record of 8 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes, 39 seconds.

A trail notable for lots of ice, lots of dirt and not much snow, helped make that possible, Dallas said.

"It's brown alright, but there're little pockets of (frozen) water, and between these little frozen puddles, it makes a rather slick surface, and the dogs have no resistance on their legs (like) going through snow," he said. "Every time they plant their foot, it's like a runner running on a nice sticky track, rather than dirt track or a grass field, where there's some slippage.

"So the dogs have good traction, the sleds slide well, and, man, these guys have been ripping down the trail. And our brakes don't work, so it speeds us up a little bit."

 

Complete Iditarod coverage
By CASEY GROVE
casey.grove@adn.com