Ultra running phenomenon David Johnston from Willow has notched another win in the first stage of the Iditarod Trail Invitational.
The holder of the record time for the 350-mile stage from the community of Knik over the Alaska Range to the Interior community of McGrath, Johnson reached the finish line in the tiny, Kuskokwim River city at 10:45 p.m. Thursday.
His time was 4 days, 8 hours and 45 minutes. It was about seven hours off the record pace he set last year.
The hard, often snowless Iditarod Trail that was a boon to fat-tired bikers this year did not help runners and hikers. They pull their survival gear along the trail on sleds, and sleds slide better on snow than on rocks, dirt and frozen tussocks.
Most of the Iditarod north of the Alaska Range this year is dirt and frozen tussocks. The conditions forced the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to move its real start north to Fairbanks on Monday.
But the conditions that were a nightmare for the dog race helped several fat-tire bikers reach McGrath in less than two days.
Race winner John Lackey from Anchorage took about 8 hours off the fastest time ever posted by an Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race dog team, setting a time some competitors believe might last forever.
Lackey's record of 1 day, 18 hours and 32 minutes was thought simply impossible prior to this year. And cyclists agree the snow-short condition of the trail was key to speeding him on his way north.
A lot of other cyclists used the conditions to set personal records. Thirty cyclists reached McGrath before Johnston this year. Only 21 managed that last year. It was an indication of the difference the conditions made.
And when Johnston pulled into McGrath, the leaders of the final stage of the Invitational -- another 650 miles from McGrath to Nome -- were more than 200 miles ahead on the trail, closing on the Yukon River community of Ruby.
Among the leaders was Jeff Oatley from Fairbanks who set a record time of 10 days, 2 hours and 53 minutes to Nome last year.
North and east of Ruby, Interior Alaska trails are hard and fast, which has fueled speculation that those pushing on to Nome -- Oatley, Jay Petervary from Idaho, Phil Hoftstetter from Nome or Pavl Richt of the Czech Republic -- might break the 10-day barrier, and possibly even come close to musher Dallas Seavey's record Iditarod run of 8 days, 13 hours and 4 minutes in 2014.