Martin Buser, the first musher to reach the Norton Sound seacoast in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, was holding what could prove to be an insurmountable lead in the 20th annual sled dog marathon.
Radio station KNOM in Nome reported that if Buser keeps up the pace, he could shave hours off the record time of 11 days, 53 minutes set by Susan Butcher in 1990.But with a star-studded pack of challengers behind him and a frequently storm-lashed route ahead, it was still anyone's guess if Buser could be caught.
Buser finished second in the 1991 Iditarod, won by five-time champion Rick Swenson. Buser was first Sunday to reach Unalakleet, a checkpoint 890 miles into the 1,159-mile race from Anchorage to Nome.
Those chasing him included Tim Osmar, Dee Dee Jonrowe, four-time winner Butcher and Swenson.
Buser said he's barely slept in recent days.
"I've been getting an hour here and an hour there. Actually, I got an hour and 10 minutes in Nulato. That's kind of a luxury," Buser told KNOM. Nulato is a checkpoint 758 miles into the race.
Buser was racing with a team of 17 dogs, the largest remaining team among the leaders.
Butcher, who took third last year, said, "I think anyone in this front pack pretty much looks strong right now."
Jonrowe, Osmar, Butcher, Jeff King and Swenson all were between Kaltag, 800 miles into the race, and Unalakleet.
A record 76 racers began the Iditarod. First prize is $50,000.
The race commemorates a 1925 lifesaving sled-dog relay of diphtheria serum to Nome.