The brutality of this year's Iditarod showed in Martin Buser's every movement and every word Tuesday.
A race-toughened veteran of 31 Iditarods, Buser looked ready to collapse, cry or do both upon reaching Nome in sixth place.
He knelt beside his dogs, put his gloved hands on his face, took a deep breath, then stood to give his wife, Kathy Chapoton, a long hug.
Buser, 55, reached the finish line at 3:58 p.m. in sixth place, a welcomed end to the longest day of one of the Iditarod's longest careers.
It took him 35 hours -- twice as long as usual -- to travel the final 125 miles from Elim to Nome. And that doesn't include his eight-hour layover in White Mountain. A report from Iditarod.com said howling winds forced Buser to duck for cover in a cabin near Golovin, where gusts reached 55 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
"Happy to be here," an emotional Buser told Iditarod Insider after finishing with a team of 12 dogs. "I've been out of control for so long."
Three days into a race defined by treacherous trail conditions, Buser sprained his ankle. Not long after that he dislocated the pinky finger on his left hand. The four-time champion from Big Lake went from leading the race to surviving it.
"All my bodily functions are gone," he said. "I can't balance, I can't steer the sled, I can't do anything.
"I can't do justice to the dogs, and that's what's so bad. I'm extremely disappointed in me for not being able to do better by them. I was the weak backbone (of the team), but they came through for me."
The trail has shown no mercy to either champions or rookies. It's been a thousand-mile race filled with thousand-mile stares.
Ninteen of the 69 teams had scratched by Tuesday evening, a list that includes some of the greatest names in the sport -- Jeff King and DeeDee Jonrowe among them.
Joining the list Tuesday morning was Hugh Neff of Tok, a Yukon Quest champion who scratched about 10 miles before reaching White Mountain, 77 miles from the finish line.
An Iditarod press release said Neff told race officials he was "having difficulty traveling well on Golovin Bay," where fierce winds have tormented mushers traveling the icy bay. It was the first scratch in 10 races for Neff, 47.
The top 10 was nearly completed by Tuesday. The top three -- Dallas Seavey, Aliy Zirkle and Mitch Seavey -- all bettered the previous race record, with Dallas winning in 8 days, 13 hours, 4 minutes, 19 seconds.
Dallas and Zirkle staged a stirring duel overnight, with Dallas finishing at 4:04 a.m. Tuesday, less than three minutes ahead of Zirkle.
His dad, defending champion Mitch Seavey, claimed third place at 7:39 a.m., about 31/2 hours after Dallas but more than an hour faster than John Baker's 2011 record. A two-time champion, Mitch owns a dozen top-10 finishes in 20 races.
In fourth place was Norway's Joar Leifseth Ulsom, who showed his Rookie of the Year award last year wasn't a fluke. Ulsom, 27, finished in 8 days, 19 hours, 1 minute, 1 second to beat his the rookie record he established last year by 17 hours.
One of five Norwegians racing this year, Ulsom said he started this year's race with 12 of the same dogs that helped him finish seventh last year. Ulsom moved to Willow three years ago with 17 dogs.
"It's a big deal to get a team over here from Norway," he said.
Ulsom joined fellow Norwegians Robert Sorlie and Bjornar Andersen plus Ruby's Emmitt Peters and Montana's Doug Swingley as the only mushers to place in the top 10 in their first two Iditarods.
Fifth place went to an Iditarod institution -- Sonny Lindner, 64, who ran his first Iditarod in 1978.
On the trail, Lindner said this was his final run to Nome. He went out in fine fashion, reaching Nome shortly before noon Tuesday with a career-best time of 8 days, 20 hours, 50 minutes, 49 seconds.
The rest of the top 10 was completed Tuesday night.
Three top-10 regulars -- Montana's Jessie Royer, Wasilla's Ray Redington Jr. and Whitehorse's Hans Gatt -- reached Nome in a 37-minute span Tuesday.
Royer, 37, placed a career-best seventh for her fourth top-10 finish in 12 Iditarods. She owns a pair of eighth-place finishes and placed 10th once.
Redington, 38, raced into the top 10 for the fourth straight year, although for the first time in that stretch he went down in the standings instead of up. He placed eight after finishing fifth last year, sixth in 2012 and seventh in 2013.
Gatt, 55, back in the race for the first time since 2011, extended his streak of top-10s to five. Four of those finishes came in consecutive years from 2008-2011 for the veteran of 13 races. Gatt, a four-time Yukon Quest champion, was the Iditarod runner-up in 2010 and place third in 2011.
Royer reached Nome at 7:03 p.m. with 10 dogs. Redington followed at 7:11 with 10 dogs and Gatt finished at 7:40 with 11 dogs.
Nome got to cheer one of its own when Aaron Burmeister and seven dogs returned home at 8:46 p.m., in 10th place. Burmeister, 38, made it despite injuring a knee early in the race. It was his third top-10 finish in 15 Iditarods.
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By KEVIN KLOTT and BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News / adn.com