NIKOLAI -- Linwood Fiedler arrived in Rohn at 4:38 p.m. Monday, giving him the lead in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
But three-time winner Martin Buser wasn't far behind. Buser, who has a son named Rohn, arrived at this checkpoint 272 miles into the race less than three hours later, at 7:25 p.m.
Norwegian Harald Tunheim was 19 minutes behind Buser, arriving at 7:44 p.m. Then came veteran Charlie Boulding at 8:02 p.m.
It's early in the Iditarod, and mushers leapfrog each other regularly as they take their rest breaks.
Fiedler, last year's runner-up, pushed through the heat of a sunny afternoon at a swift pace, though. He made the 48-mile run from Rainy Pass to Rohn in three hours and 45 minutes.
Buser was even faster, covering the distance in three hours and 13 minutes after taking just a token two minutes at Rainy Pass.
From Rohn, it's 850 miles to the finish in Nome.
Boulding, of Manley, was first into Rainy Pass at 10:56 a.m. Monday. He rested more than five hours before chasing the leaders. Boulding left at 4:08 p.m., two minutes after Tunheim. He said the trail was the fastest he'd seen in ten Iditarods.
Buser, a three-time Iditarod champion from Big Lake, left Rainy Pass at 4:12 p.m., but he made much swifter time on the trail to Rohn.
Ramy Brooks of Healy was fifth. He left Rainy Pass at 4:48 p.m. after a rest of four and a half hours. Then came three-time winner Jeff King, who lives in Denali Park. King left at 5:10 p.m. with six hours of rest.
John Baker followed at 5:14 p.m. His dogs also had about six hours to recoup their strength. Behind him was Ramey Smyth at 5:52 p.m. and then, in ninth place, Jerry Riley, the Nenana musher who won in 1976. He left Rainy Pass at 5:52 p.m. after a six-hour break. DeeDee Jonrowe was out at 6:18 p.m. to round out the top ten.
Also out of Rainy Pass were Vern Halter, five-time winner Rick Swenson, Sonny Lindner, Jim Lanier, and Sonny King.
Many mushers took a major rest at Rainy Pass, letting their dogs relax in the hot sun. The racers cooked up frozen meat with water from Puntilla Lake, making a soupy mixture to help the dogs stay hydrated.
"My dogs -- they're not happy with the weather. But they're trying," said Baker, who lives in the colder climate of Kotzebue.
Jeff King carefully surveyed a vacuum-sealed bag with something brown inside. Not quite sure what it was, he sliced the bag open with a knife and tasted it.
"Mud Pie from the Red Robin restaurant," King said, eating the half-frozen mixture with a spoon.
Nearby, Jerry Riley searched in his bag for lunch and puzzled over a plastic bag with toiletries.
"Hmmm. My wife packed me a toothbrush and no toothpaste," Riley said. Diving back into his supplies, he found what he was looking for -- fruit-filled pancakes and dried moose meat.
As Riley ate, his dogs, most of them black, dozed and soaked up the sunshine.
Riley's dogs are larger than most, weighing about 65 pounds each. Floppy-eared with thick shiny coats, they are a mixture of Irish setter, Belgian sheepdog, and husky.
Riley, who won Iditarod in 1976, is running his 14th race.
"My back hurts. I'm tired. I haven't slept since I started. Too much work," said Riley, who is 65. A short time later he grabbed some straw, made a bed beside his lead dogs, and curled up for a nap.
Well back in the pack was Montana musher Doug Swingley, who's won three straight races. Swingley was still in Finger Lake Monday evening, 78 miles behind the leader in 41st place. But Swingley had a rested team with the cool night ahead. He arrived in Finger Lake just after noon.
Swingley was in no hurry to be out in front, he told KNOM radio earlier.
"Patience has always been my greatest virtue," he said just before leaving the Skwentna checkpoint as the sun rose Monday.
Swingley said some drivers have tried to get a jump on him early in previous races.
"I say they've been trying to do that for a long time and it doesn't work," he said, laughing.
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