UNALAKLEET — Two-time Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey surged ahead Sunday, blowing through the checkpoint here, charging up the Norton Sound coast and separating himself from his top competitors, including his son who questioned whether anyone could catch up to his 57-year-old dad.
"He's beating the crap out of us and everybody else in this race," said four-time and defending champion Dallas Seavey as he fed his 12-dog team here Sunday evening in temperatures around 10 degrees. "I'm not upset, I'm impressed and kudos to him."
Wade Marrs, 26, of Willow, and his 13-dog team pulled into Unalakleet first Sunday at 4:05 p.m. and stopped to rest. Nicolas Petit, 37, of Girdwood, and his 15 sled dogs followed three minutes later and also decided to stay.
Then came Mitch Seavey, of Sterling, and his 12-dog team at 4:23 p.m. They moved into and out of the coastal community within five minutes and headed to the next checkpoint of Shaktoolik, 40 miles away and about 220 miles from the finish line in Nome. He got there at 9:04 p.m. Sunday.
Dallas Seavey, 30, of Willow, didn't arrive in Unalakleet until 4:45 p.m. As he tended to his dogs about three hours later, he questioned how to give chase to his dad. Nothing seemed feasible.
"Honestly, right now, if I said, 'What would it take to catch my dad? What would I do?' it would be something insane and that would be unrealistic for these guys," he said. "The race isn't over until we're under the burled arch, but if I was a betting person I would say we're some pretty long odds."
Inside the checkpoint, Marrs ate a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon and chocolate chip cookies. He said he hoped to race for first place this year, but it no longer seemed realistic.
"I was hoping to be racing against Mitch, I guess, because he's in the front. But now we're just racing for the spot behind Mitch it seems like," Marrs said, calculating the speeds, distances and rests it would take for him to even come close to the elder Seavey.
"It's like a breeze for him right now. I don't think he has any pressure at all. The only way one of us can put pressure on him is if we go straight to Koyuk," Marrs said of the checkpoint 90 miles away from Unalakleet. "It's possible, it has been done before, but I can guarantee you I won't be doing it."
Marrs has another challenge — he dropped his go-to lead dog, Puma, in Galena with a swollen achilles tendon, creating a speed problem on his team, he said. His said his sole goal was to just get to Nome.
"The goal is really just to finish, like literally without that leader it makes it really scary to make pushes," he said.
Dallas Seavey was the second musher out of Unalakleet, at 8:36 p.m. Sunday, about four hours after his dad. Within 37 minutes, Joar Ulsom (8:48 p.m.), Petit (9:11 p.m.) and Marrs (9:13 p.m.) followed.
Dallas said he planned to do his best and won't consider the race as over until Nome.
About his dad, he said, "He's got the lead and he's got speed, it's the same I had in 2015, and that's checkmate."