HUSLIA — Wade Marrs hustled out of Huslia on Friday evening with the Iditarod lead, departing the checkpoint seven minutes before four-time champion Dallas Seavey arrived.
Children crowded around Marrs as he ran to get straw to pack in his sled and used a knife to cut open bags full of supplies he had sent to the checkpoint before the race started.
He sliced open a bag of straw, tied the bale to his sled and frantically shoved bags of dog booties into any open spaces.
"How come you have to leave so quick?" yelled one child from the crowd.
"Because I'm racing," said Marrs, who placed fourth last year.
"Why?" someone asked.
"Because Dallas is chasing me," Marrs said.
Marrs got into Huslia at 6:57 p.m. and left at 7:05 p.m. with 14 dogs.
Seven minutes later, at 7:12 p.m., in came Seavey and his sled dog team. Seavey has called his race strategy in the past "building a monster" and this evening in Huslia, he may have started to unveil that monster.
Seavey came into the checkpoint with 11 dogs in harness and hauling three dogs in his sled. He dropped one dog, "Sorrel."
"She's not ready to do what we're about to do," he said.
Children, residents and reporters crowded around Seavey as he methodically packed his sled. He took his time at the checkpoint — putting together a meal in the cooker he attaches to the back of his sled, going into the checkpoint to fill up thermoses.
Before he left, his dad walked over. Two-time champion Mitch Seavey was nearing the end of his 24-hour layover.
"I won't hold you up," Mitch told his son before giving him a hug.
Dallas told his dad that he had to rest on the trail coming into Huslia because of temperatures that climbed above 20 degrees, a significant difference to the minus 40 and minus 50 temperatures in the beginning days of the race.
"I had to shut it down," Seavey told his dad. "It got so dang hot."
Seavey put the three dogs in harness that had been resting in his sled. While he came into Huslia with 11 dogs pulling him across the snow, he left with 13 running.
Seavey left Huslia at 7:39 p.m. — 34 minutes after Marrs — after spending 27 minutes at the checkpoint.
Less than two hours later, Joar Ulsom passed through the checkpoint and joined the chase at 9:12 p.m. Mitch Seavey was back on the trail at 10:12 p.m.
All four frontrunners are have taken their mandatory 24-hour layover. Each still must take an eight-hour break before the race leaves the Yukon River.
— Tegan Hanlon
Selland scratches in Ruby
Mark Selland of Anchorage scratched from the race Friday afternoon in Ruby.
Selland left the Ruby checkpoint at 9:27 a.m. with 13 dogs, leaving one behind in Ruby after a 12-hour rest at the checkpoint.
He started the 50-mile run to Galena but then turned back. He dropped out "due to concern for the safety and welfare of his race team," according to a press release from the race. It was 3:15 p.m. when he scratched.
Selland placed 59th in the 2015 race, his rookie run.
He's the third musher to scratch, leaving 69 on the trail.
— Beth Bragg
Chief vet: Dog collapsed before dying
A sled dog that died late Thursday on the Iditarod Trail "apparently collapsed," according to the race's chief veterinarian.
Stu Nelson said 2-year-old Deacon, a dog in the team of veteran musher Seth Barnes, collapsed an eighth of a mile from the Yukon River checkpoint of Galena. Nelson said Barnes came into the checkpoint "distressed," carrying the dog's body in his sled bag.
Veterinarians attempted CPR on the dog without success, Nelson said.
Nelson said race officials plan to fly the dog's body to Fairbanks, where it would undergo a necropsy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Department of Veterinary Medicine.
Nelson said he had no preliminary cause of the dog's death, noting that the animal had "no prior medical concerns or issues."
"We just need to do some studying here to try to put the pieces together," he said.
Barnes, an Iditarod and Yukon Quest veteran, placed 35th as an Iditarod rookie in 2015. He's racing a puppy team for two-time champion Mitch Seavey according to Janine, Seavey's wife.
Barnes' girlfriend, Taylor Steele, said he has trained Deacon since fall 2016 at his Willow kennel. Deacon is from a litter of nine puppies known for their ferocious appetites and happy dispositions.
Steele said Barnes is skilled with dog care, having trained teams for mushers Aaron Burmeister and Ray Redington Jr.
"He would drop a dog from the simplest thing," she said in a phone interview Friday. "And I know if something was wrong he would have left (Deacon) in Ruby, for sure."
In Galena, Barnes declined to comment, adding that he wanted to talk to the veterinarian first.
Deacon's death is the first dog death in 2017 race. The only dog to perish last year was on Jeff King's team, which was hit when a drunken snowmachiner repeatedly terrorized King and fellow musher Aliy Zirkle.
Meanwhile, the race began sorting out its leaders on Friday as the top contenders made their way into the halfway point of Huslia. Mitch Seavey was the first to the checkpoint Thursday night. So far, he's been followed by a contingent including Nicolas Petit, Jessie Royer and Michelle Phillips.
As of noon Friday, 11 mushers were stacked up in Koyukuk River checkpoint, but none had left.
Race standings can be hard to gauge at this point in the race as mushers declare both their 24-hour and eight-hour mandatory rests. So far only one musher has finished both stops — Martin Buser, who left Ruby at just after 3 a.m. Friday and was en route to Galena in 50th place.
Some mushers already have found themselves modifying schedules, including top contender Zirkle.
Zirkle, a three-time Iditarod runner-up, told Alaska Public Media that a sickness going through her team forced her to stop in Galena for her 24-hour break, instead of Huslia, as she'd planned.
She said some of her dogs have diarrhea and others have a fever. She suspects the bug was acquired while running the Yukon Quest with her husband, Allen Moore, last month.
"This was not my 'A plan' stopping in Galena," Zirkle told the Iditarod Insider crew Thursday. "But it kind of seemed like they're right where if I push them any harder they're going to go down, whereas if I stop here, I see them going back up."
— Suzanna Caldwell in Anchorage and Tegan Hanlon in Galena