UPDATE 2 A.M. WEDNESDAY
Willow musher Wade Marrs led an early-morning exit from Tanana a little after 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Marrs, 26, drove his team into the night after a rest of nearly five hours in the Yukon River village.
He left at 1:07 a.m., with Pete Kaiser and defending champion Dallas Seavey right behind him. Mitch Seavey followed at 1:19 a.m., and Nicolas Petit — who was the first musher to reach Tanana on Tuesday evening — left at 1:40 a.m.
All drove full teams of 16 dogs.
Petit spent 6 hours, 56 minutes at the checkpoint. All mushers must take an eight-hour layover somewhere on the Yukon, plus a 24-hour layover at any checkpoint on the 1,000-mile trail from Fairbanks to Nome.
From Tanana the leaders head to Ruby, 119 miles away. Ruby is about 335 miles into the race, according to an Iditarod mileage chart.
— Beth Bragg
7:15 p.m. Tuesday
Nicolas Petit of Girdwood was the first musher to reach Tanana on Tuesday evening, earning himself a gourmet meal and $3,500 for being the first musher to reach the race's first checkpoint on the Yukon River.
Petit, a 36-year-old who placed seventh in last year's race, arrived with all 16 dogs in harness at 6:44 p.m.
Joining Petit 36 minutes later at 7:20 p.m. was Martin Buser of Big Lake, a four-time champion who also had a full team of 16 dogs in harness.
Besides his prize money — awarded in single dollar bills — Petit will be served a five-course feast:
● Alaska cioppino, featuring Alaska razor clams, Bristol Bay red king crab and spotted shrimp sautéed with garlic and onion in a tomato broth;
● Sundried cranberry, pear and gorgonzola salad;
● Smoked duck and prosciutto;
● Lamb loin chops pan seared with shallots and wild mushrooms flambéed with Yukon Jack Canadian whisky, finished with a Madeira apple mint demi-glace and plated alongside sautéed asparagus tips and a Yukon Gold potato cake;
● Mango sorbet with blood orange gelée.
Each course comes with a wine pairing. The dollars bills are served on a commemorative gold pan, accompanied by a bottle of Dom Pérignon Champagne.
The award is sponsored by the Lakefront Anchorage hotel.
— Beth Bragg
• • •
(7 p.m. Tuesday)
By 2 p.m. Tuesday, the temperature at the Manley Hot Springs checkpoint had only climbed to minus-15, according to former Yukon Quest champion John Schandelmeier, who was in the village of 100 residents to watch the Iditarod.
Some mushers claimed it was minus-40 on the adjacent Tanana River.
"The run to Tanana is a long 65 miles from Manley," Schandelmeier said. "There is a DOT-maintained road to Tanana this winter, but there is no place to park in Tanana. When you get across the Yukon, it turns immediately to a snowmobile trail.
"Folks in this town enjoy the race coming through. I was surprised to find very few tourists here following the race. Nobody on the road from Fairbanks."
— Mike Campbell
• • •
(3:45 p.m. Tuesday)
Can "3 Pete" capture one Iditarod? Bethel's Pete Kaiser leads a pack of top racers outside of Manley Hot Springs on Tuesday afternoon, according to the Iditarod trackers — but probably not for long.
Kaiser — known as "3 Pete" for his three consecutive Kusko 300 wins — is a "stickler for strategy," according to a blog post on his kennel's website. The 28-year-old musher appears to be staying to his schedule, a strict five-hour run, 2.5-hour rest routine.
He's not alone in sticking to a schedule so soon into the race. As race analyst Jake Berkowitz points out, other mushers are also adhering to strict run/rest routines.
A pack of mushers made their way out of Manley headed toward Kaiser on Tuesday afternoon, including two Redingtons — Ryan and Ray — Yukon musher Michelle Phillips, and former Yukon Quest champion Hugh Neff.
— Mike Campbell
• • •
(8 a.m. Tuesday)
As the mushers start to shake themselves out from the bottleneck of the start, does it feel like deja vu to hear that Martin Buser is at the front of the pack? The Big Lake musher and four-time champion was first into Manley Hot Springs, arriving just before 6 a.m. Tuesday.
He also had the fastest time Monday from Fairbanks to Nenana, making the 60-mile run in just over five hours.
While it's still early in the race — we're not even 200 miles into this 1,000-miler — trackers show Buser was chased early Tuesday by a pack of top contenders including Mitch Seavey, Nicolas Petit, Kusko 300 champ Pete Kaiser and defending Iditarod champ Dallas Seavey.
But it looks like Buser is pulling, well, a Buser — or at least the Buser strategy he's deployed in recent years. Instead of sticking to the typical pacing of starting slow and deploying speed at the end, Buser has again elected to charge out of the gate, going hundreds of miles into the race at top speeds with little rest.
In 2013 and 2014, the strategy has had mixed results. While he placed an impressive sixth in 2014, his 2013 push resulted in less-than-stellar 17th-place finish.
Buser has been trying to capture that elusive fifth win since 2002. He's said in the past that years of sticking to more traditional race strategies hadn't been working and it was time to change it up.
Buser made his 13-hour run to Manley amid frigid temps that plunged to minus 30 to minus 40 below zero overnight. Temperatures were expected to warm significantly this afternoon, up to around zero, but will drop back down in the evening. Don't be surprised to see many teams resting in the midday "heat."
— Suzanna Caldwell
Correction: An early version of this story incorrectly reported the distance between the Fairbanks and Nenana checkpoints. The Iditarod lists the distance as 60 miles.