Martin Buser is sitting on a commanding four-hour lead in Nikolai Tuesday morning, along with seven other top mushers eying the four-time champion’s strong
Despite trailing fellow Big Lake musher Kelly Maixner’s into Rohn on Monday, Buser cruised right through that checkpoint, regaining the lead and pulling into Nikolai just after 1 a.m. Tuesday.
The closest musher behind Buser is Girdwood’s Nick Petit, who landed in Nikolai more than nearly four and a half hours later at 5:36 a.m. Then came a cascade of top contenders—Tok musher Hugh Neff at 7:10 am., two-time second-place finisher Aliy Zirkle at 7:34 a.m., and Buser’s fellow four-time champ Jeff King at 7:44 a.m.
Nome’s Aaron Burmesiter, Akiak’s Mike Williams Jr., and Two Rivers vet Sonny Lindner were also into Nikolai before 8 a.m. The rest of the leading contenders—2011 champ Dallas Seavey, his father (and reigning champion) Mitch Seavey, and several other top contenders—were all out of Rohn and en route to Nikolai late last night.
Buser’s speeds have kept in excess of 8.5 mph throughout much of the race, strong but certainly not the fastest times posted so far. Neff and Zirkle have kept their pace north of 9 mph for much of the race so far, but with considerably more rest that Buser’s team.
Longtime musher and top contender DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow bowed out of the race Tuesday after arriving in Rohn Monday night. Jonrowe had suffered a nasty spill from her sled in the Dalzell Gorge. She scratched with a full dog team.
This year was Jonrowe's 29th Iditarod. Race officials said in a release that Jonrowe told checkpoint personnel she was "beat up physically" in the gorge. Also scratching in Rohn was Willow’s Linwood Fiedler, also citing a ride ride through the gorge.
A lack of snow is causing dangerous conditions in the gorge, with many mushers crashing their sleds.
Petit ranted to an Iditarod website reporter for 15 minutes about the poor trail conditions after arriving Tuesday in Nikolai. His sled was broken along the trail, and he encouraged 74-year-old musher Jim Lanier to hang up his sled and wait for a better year.
With roughly 700 miles to go to Nome, and the world’s greatest mushers hot on Buser’s trail, and many crucial rests as yet untaken, Iditarod XLII remains any musher’s race.