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Photos: Iditarod leaders arrive in Koyuk

A musher travels over bare ground between Unalakleet and Shaktoolik. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
A musher travels over bare ground between Unalakleet and Shaktoolik. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
A musher passes a fishing cabin near Shaktoolik. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
A musher nearing Shaktoolik. Norton Sound, behind, is usually frozen this time of year. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Aliy Zirkle, right, leads Jeff King into Koyuk. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Aliy Zirkle coming off the sea ice into Koyuk. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Jeff King on the sea ice near Koyuk. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Aliy Zirkle coming off the sea ice into Koyuk. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Jeff King coming into Koyuk. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Jeff King puts straw down for his dogs in Koyuk. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Aliy Zirkle was first into Koyuk, beating Jeff King by one minute. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Jeff King gained 47 minutes on leader Aliy Zirkle on the run from Shaktoolik to Koyuk. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Jeff King's lead dogs lick the frost off their fur at the Koyuk checkpoint. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Aliy Zirkle talks to her little fans in Koyuk. Mar 9, 2014
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Aliy Zirkle teases Jeff King, saying that she beat him to Koyuk, and did it with fewer dogs. In reality, he eliminated her sizable lead, coming in only one minute behind her. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Martin Buser navigates a strong side wind on the sea ice before Koyuk. The wind was blowing teams sideways at times. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Martin Buser coming off the sea ice into Koyuk. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Martin Buser, the early leader, was a distant third coming into Koyuk. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Sonny Lindner, the oldest musher still on the trail, arrived in Koyuk in fifth place. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Aliy Zirkle feeds her dogs before heading out of Koyuk, shortly after Martin Buser arrived in the Norton Sound checkpoint. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Koyuk kids watch Martin Buser tend to his dogs. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Sonny Lindner, the oldest musher still on the trail, arrived in Koyuk in fifth place. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Martin Buser, nursing a dislocated finger, feeds his dogs in Koyuk. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Jeff King, right, leads Aliy Zirkle out of Koyuk, with less than a minute between them. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Jeff King, right, leads Aliy Zirkle out of Koyuk, with less than a minute between them. Mar 9, 2014
Loren Holmes photo
Loren Holmes

KOYUK -- As four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King approached this village just 170 miles from the finish of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race, he glanced up and saw what he first thought was a mirage.

In the distance, a ghostly figure in white slowly moved toward the Seward Peninsula community. But it was no mirage. It was Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, the leader of the world’s premier distance sled dog race, wearing a white wind suit. And Zirkle was a vision of hope that the 58-year-old King might finally be able to join Rick Swenson as the race’s only five-time champions. Days ago, King was hours behind. Now, he was neck and neck -- pulling in just a minute behind Zirkle before grabbing the lead by leaving one minute ahead of her at 5:50 p.m.

"I was thrilled," King said of seeing Zirkle as they approached the checkpoint. "I thought I was close, but maybe not that close."

And the thrill of a pitched battle energized his every move. King skidded into his parking spot here with a full cooler of dog food. After setting his hook, he grabbed the blue-and-white container and went to laying out food for his dogs rapidly -- spreading it on the snow for them to snack on -- only to come back a moment later with a full blue plastic bag of straw. He covered the dogs, building little nests for leaders like Barnum, a tall back dog who has led his most of the race, and his mother, Skeeter, who took over on the treacherous trip from Shaktoolik, the previous checkpoint some 50 miles back down the trail.

READ MORE: Roaring from behind, King seizes Iditarod lead from Zirkle