Two women sled dog racers, running neck-and-neck with four men, neared the midway point today in the 1,168-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome.
The six were vying to be the first to reach the Iditarod Trail halfway mark and win $3,000 in silver.
The front-runners were on the trail within minutes of each other after their last checkpoint stop.
Joe Runyan, 40, took off first, followed by four-time Iditarod winner Rick Swenson, 38.
On their heels was Dee Dee Jonrowe, 33, the woman who had been leading for many miles. Close behind her was Susan Butcher, 34, winner of the last three Iditarods.
Martin Buser, 30, followed Butcher out. Jerry Riley, 52, a former winner, was the sixth musher on the trail this morning.
The front-runners were rushing to the ghost town that gave the race its name. Iditarod, 558 miles from Anchorage, used to be a bustling mining city of 10,000, but now is inhabited only during March, when the race is run. The front-runners were expected at Iditarod late today.
In addition to the halfway prize money, the mushers are vying for a piece of the $250,000 purse divided among the top 20 in Nome. First prize earns $50,000.
Until Runyan slipped out front, Jonrowe and Butcher had been leading, prompting Iditarod founder Joe Redington to quip: “It’s getting pretty damn hard for a man to win anything any more. Maybe we should start a men’s race.”
A half dozen other men, Redington included, were chasing the leaders. And running with them was Libby Riddles, who became the first woman to win the race in 1985.
“You’re always trying to gain on the people ahead of you,” she said. “That’s the point of a race.”
The frontunners were in such a hurry they barely stopped in Takotna, one of the most popular of the 25 checkpoints between Anchorage and Nome.
Forty-nine mushers left Anchorage on Saturday to start the 17th annual Iditarod. Four men have dropped out of the race, but all nine women are still in it.