2 a.m. update: Dallas Seavey left Safety at 1:13 a.m. Wednesday and is expected to reach the Nome finish line around 4 a.m., according to an estimate by race officials.
WHITE MOUNTAIN -- Calm and collected, Dallas Seavey pulled his snowhook in the soft early evening light Tuesday and slowly chugged off behind 10 dogs toward the distant lights of Nome and the finish of the Iditarod.
In a race saddled with brutally cold temperatures for much of the trip from Fairbanks, the final 80-mile push began in 18-degree sunshine, nearly tropical by comparison. Wearing only a light jacket, Seavey didn't put on his heavier parka until he was moving west.
"Am I good on time?" Seavey asked race officials before departing at 6:10 p.m. After they told him yes, he could leave, he joked back: "But I had to go to the bathroom."
Seavey wasn't in any rush, holding a lead of more than four hours. Compare that to a year ago, when he left the same checkpoint some three hours behind four-time champion Jeff King and almost two behind Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers before finding his way through a fierce windstorm to victory.
"Last year, Jeff had it in the bag but somehow I ended up winning it. So it's not over until it's over," Seavey told Iditarod Insider. "We're not picking out colors for the truck yet."
This year, Seavey hopes the final stretch of the Iditarod Trail serves more as a coronation than the survival test it became 12 months ago, when a brutal ground blizzard knocked presumptive champion King out of the race and pinned down runner-up Zirkle long enough that Seavey passed her and hung on for the second-closest victory in race history.
Without a similar blow, Seavey is expected on Front Street well before dawn, and if the former Alaska state champion wrestler crosses beneath the burled arch first, as expected, he'll join an elite group of mushers with three or more Iditarod victories -- Lance Mackey, Doug Swingley, Martin Buser, Jeff King, Susan Butcher and Rick Swenson, still the most-winning Iditarod musher with five titles.
To do it, he'll need to hold off his father. Mitch Seavey, 55, also a two-time champion, was the second musher to leave White Mountain, departing at 10:21 p.m. with 10 dogs.
If they finish in that order, they'll become the first parent-child duo to grab the top two Iditarod spots.
"Dallas would have to have a major mistake not to win," said Danny Seavey, Dallas' older brother. "Things would have to change significantly for him not to hold that lead."
Dallas' lead dog and last year's Golden Harness winner, Reef, was in "single lead and a half," according to Seavey. The blondish 3-year-old with a white face has been a star in Seavey's team. He led the Willow musher through some of the most challenging parts of the trail, including badly drifted areas leading to White Mountain. Reef was joined by Beatle, a fellow Golden Harness winner who was technically in lead with Reef, but a shorter tug line set Beatle about a head back.
Reef and Beatle, plus their eight companions, made Seavey a confident man.
"It ain't over, it ain't over," he told Iditarod Insider, "but obviously it's looking pretty good.
"I would feel pretty confident if I was going to be leaving side by side with my dad and Aaron (Burmeister in third place). Truthfully, I've got more speed than both of them. That's the advantage of a speed team. If it ever does come down to a footrace, you've always got the edge.
"Every obstacle we've put in front of them, they've just conquered it. So in that regard, they've been an easy team to run."