UNALAKLEET - Norwegian Robert Sorlie was the first musher out of the coastal village of Shaktoolik on Monday in the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but other contenders were in gaining on him with faster dogs.
Sorlie, a 47-year-old firefighter from Hurdal, rested his dogs for 5 hours and 5 minutes before setting out on the 48-mile run to Koyuk. He dropped two dogs in Shaktoolik, continuing with nine on the final 291-mile stretch to Nome.
In 2003, Sorlie won his second Iditarod with eight dogs. All mushers must begin the race with at least 16 dogs.
Defending champion Mitch Seavey of Seward rested his dogs for 22 minutes before chasing after Sorlie, leaving Shaktoolik 51 minutes later with 11 dogs.
Four-time winner Martin Buser of Big Lake took off 27 minutes after that, resting his dogs for nearly 4 1/2 hours. In Shaktoolik, he dropped one dog, pushing on with nine.
Buser was trailed 30 minutes later by veteran Ramy Brooks of Healy, who was runner-up to Sorlie in 2003. Brooks left after resting his 12 dogs for almost 5 1/2 hours.
Above freezing temperatures and winds up to 40 mph were forecast for Monday night along the trail from Shaktoolik to Koyuk. The stretch is among the windiest segments of the race, running mushers out onto the ice of Norton Bay.
Though Sorlie has maintained the lead over a wet, slushy trail since the halfway point at Iditarod, his dogs are slowing, running just under 6 mph Monday afternoon, according to Iditarod officials. In comparison, Seavey's dogs clocked in at 7.6 mph, Buser's at 6.3 mph and Brooks' at 6.6 mph.
Veteran John Baker of Kotzebue was among the other front-runners at Shaktoolik, pulling in nearly 2 hours ahead of four-time winner Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont. Swingley beat three-time winner Jeff King to the village by 10 minutes.
Others in Shaktoolik on Monday were Ed Iten of Kotzebue, Norwegian rookie Bjornar Andersen - Sorlie's nephew - and DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow.
Mushers still must take a mandatory eight-hour layover at White Mountain, 77 miles from Nome. All have taken the required 24-hour rest and an earlier mandatory eight.
Among the 68 mushers still in the running, legally blind rookie Rachael Scdoris of Bend, Ore., was near the end of the pack.
The first musher to Nome in the 33rd running of the Iditarod will receive $72,066.67 and a pickup truck. The total purse this year is $750,107.