WHITE MOUNTAIN — When defending Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey and his 10 sled dogs pulled into this tiny community at 1:35 a.m Tuesday, he asked about his 57-year-old dad. He wanted to know when Mitch Seavey had arrived.
About two hours earlier, a volunteer told him.
"Yeah, he's going to crush it, man," replied the 30-year-old Seavey, who arrived second to the checkpoint 77 miles from Nome. "He's way into new record territory, isn't he?"'
It appears that he is.
By Tuesday morning, two-time Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey seemed just about untouchable. Anything can happen in the final miles to Nome, but Mitch and his team have had speed on their side for much of this year's race.
As he reached this checkpoint and prepared for a mandatory eight-hour rest, his team remained ready to race, he said.
"I don't think it could be any better. I'm here with some kind of lead anyway and a nice, fast team," Mitch said as he waited for cold water from the river to warm so he could feed his 12-dog team in the subzero cold. "I don't think I could complain about anything."
The Seaveys have dominated the 1,000-mile Iditarod since 2012, with Dallas winning four of the last five races and Mitch winning one, in 2013. Dallas currently holds the titles of both the youngest and fastest champion, while Mitch is the oldest winner, notching his last victory at age 53.
Mitch is poised to hold on to the honor of oldest champion this year and could shatter his son's speed record of 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes, 16 seconds to reach Nome, set in 2016. But Mitch said he knows he can't make mistakes between here and the finish line.
"Obviously it's not in the bag — we've got to do some things right," he said. "And there's plenty of ways to mess it up, so I'm not planning to do any of those."
Still, he said, out on the trail, he had long expected to win this year. Since his run out of Ruby, only about 350 miles into the race, he had a hunch, he said.
"I felt like I was going to win it for a long time and I would be disappointed — terribly disappointed — if I didn't," Mitch said. "This might be my best-executed race."
At 11:36 p.m. Monday, Mitch's lead dogs, 4-year-old Pilot and 5-year-old Crisp, led him into White Mountain. Residents cheered as he pulled up to a barrel of straw marking his parking spot for the night.
He put jackets on his dogs and broke apart the straw for them to rest on. He used his ax to hack through ice that had formed over a small hole in the river where mushers would get water for their teams. He brought back a pail of icy water and started a fire in his cooker to warm it.
As he waited, he spoke of his strategy to bank a generous amount of rest up the Norton Sound coast to make his team stronger, with his lead allowing him to stop longer. He also spoke of his team's preparation for the Iditarod. He said his dogs run at a training speed of 10 mph, which contributed to their ability to maintain speed throughout the race — it's just what they know.
"We just hold them at a set speed if the trail conditions are good enough," Mitch said. "On an ideal trail I just run them 10 miles an hour and that's what we do all the time. So when we are moving our feet, we are going at 10 miles an hour."
His closest competitors had all but stopped trying to catch him dozens of miles before White Mountain.
Dallas said that in Unalakleet, at race mile 718, he decided to switch his focus from racing his dad to racing Nicolas Petit, Joar Leifseth Ulsom and Wade Marrs.
He started out trying to race his dad, but "it didn't take me very long to realize that was the wrong fight to pick," Dallas said as he prepared food for his dogs. "My job as coach here is to put these guys in the ring with teams they can compete with."
Dallas described his dad's performance in this year's race as "remarkable."
"It's been truly impressive what that team's doing, and I'm excited," he said. "It's awesome for the whole sport, I think. All of a sudden it's not a matter of if we can do this thing in under eight days, it's when."
Mitch Seavey said he tries not to think about the future while racing, instead focusing on the race and his dogs. He admitted he had thought about the "consequences" of him winning and Dallas not winning, but he concluded: "I think he's won a lot — it's my turn, if not somebody else's."
Mitch can leave White Mountain at 7:36 a.m. Tuesday. It typically takes eight to 10 hours to make the final run to Nome, which would put him under the burled arch as early as 3:36 p.m.
Dallas Seavey can leave White Mountain at 9:35 a.m., and Nicolas Petit of Girdwood at 9:48 a.m.
By 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, Joar Leifseth Ulsom was approaching the checkpoint and Jessie Royer was about 10 miles out.