5:15 p.m. Sunday: Wade Marrs of Willow earned $3,500 worth of gold nuggets Sunday afternoon, when he beat three other top mushers to Unalakleet to capture the Wells Fargo Gold Coast Award.
Marrs pulled into the biggest town on the Iditarod trail at 4:05 p.m., pulled by 13 eager dogs. Though Marrs was first to town, he doesn't lead the 45th Iditarod. That's because two-time champion Mitch Seavey of Sterling stayed in town just five minutes before heading toward the next checkpoint of Shaktoolik, 40 miles down the trail.
Seavey reached Unalakleet at 4:23 p.m., some 15 minutes after Nicolas Petit, who was the second musher to arrive.
Defending and four-time champion Dallas Seavey was fourth into Unalakleet, arriving at 4:45 p.m. Dallas was the first musher to leave the previous checkpoint of Kaltag, but musher often rest in the long, bumpy trip to the Norton Sound coast.
Norwegian musher Joar Ulsom was expected to be the fifth musher into Unalakleet, a town of 700.
The gold nuggets come from the Bering Sea region and were purchased from a longtime resident and gold miner. Wells Fargo's Nicolle Welch, district manager for Western Alaska, and Drew McCann, Nome branch manager, presented the award to Marrs, which will be re-presented at the Iditarod awards banquet in Nome next Sunday.
8:30 a.m. Sunday: As the sun rose over western Alaska Sunday morning a freight train of mushers was bouncing over the Kaltag Portage enroute to Unalakleet, trying to sort out the top spots in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Just two hours, 10 minutes separated the top five racers — and they were on equal footing, having all completed both their 24-hour and eight-hour mandatory rests.
The top two were Seaveys, something Iditarod fans are becoming accustomed to, with Mitch out at 4:40 a.m. and son Dallas just five minutes behind. Then came 26-year-old Wade Marrs of Willow at 5:28 a.m., with Nicolas Petit of Girdwood following about an hour later. Norwegian musher Joar Ulsom was 15 minutes behind Petit.
Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, a three-time runner up in the 1,000-mile race to Nome, was sixth.
On the 50-mile run from Nulato to Kaltag, the final checkpoint on the Yukon River, Petit recorded the fastest speed. His 15 dogs averaged 12.7 mph. Mitch Seavey was the only other musher in the top group to average more than 12 mph.
Unalakleet is the largest town on the Iditarod trail between Fairbanks and Nome, and the Kaltag Portage is a bumpy trail that can sort out a tightly bunched pack.
Once mushers reach the Norton Sound, they'll face a 260-mile run across the Bering Sea ice and up the Seward Peninsula to the finish line.
It is a stretch that has proven friendly to Dallas Seavey in all of his four Iditarod victories, and this year's strategy of resting up to four dogs at a time on the trail could leave him with a particularly fresh crew of canines.
Rookie musher Ryan Anderson scratched on Saturday in Galena. He'd been running at the back of the pack, and his departure leaves Wasilla musher Ellen Halverson in position to earn her record third red lantern as the final finisher, a prize she earned in 2007 and 2011. Those are her only two finishes in seven starts.