ROHN ROADHOUSE, Alaska -- Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof was leading the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race today as front-runners cleared the towering Alaska Range and made their way across a bumpy, 93-mile section of the Farewell Burn.
Gebhardt left the Rohn Roadhouse checkpoint at 6:45 p.m.(AST) Monday, about 40 minutes ahead of Jeff King, a three-time winner from Denali Park.
Defending champion and another three-time winner, Doug Swingley, from Lincoln, Mont., was running a close third, departing at 7:52 p.m. Mitch Seavey, from Seward, was fourth, leaving at 8:07 p.m.
Then came DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow, at 8:26 p.m.; Jon Little of Kasilof at 8:45; Daniel Govoni from Wasilla at 8:49, and Rick Mackey of Nenana, the 1983 winner, at 8:53 p.m.
Rick Swenson from Two Rivers, the Iditarod's only five-time champion, was running ninth, leaving Rohn at 9:03 p.m. Vern Halter, another perennial front-runner from Willow, was tenth, checking out at 9:13.
The next checkpoint is the community hall at Nikolai, a Native village of about 100 people.
The Farewell Burn is a sled-battering section of tundra blown clear of snow in places. Stumps from a 1984 controlled burn often poke through the snowdrifts, making a nighttime run challenging.
King said his only worry Monday was that he might have a team with too much energy for the 30 miles of bare ground reported in the country north of Rohn. He was afraid his dogs would have too much traction and want to barrel through there.
"They just pour it on, and you're like a rag doll hanging on" to the sled, King said.
The 1,100-mile Iditarod is a mushing marathon from Anchorage to Nome.
Sixty-eight teams began the race Saturday. Two have scratched.
Teams are vying for a share of a record $550,000 purse, with the winner taking home more than $62,000 and a new pickup truck.