2015 Iditarod sled dog race continues to play out with the top mushers battling one another at the top of the leaderboard. As they begin to take the turn towards Nome, all of the contenders have now completed their mandatory 8- and 24-hour rest periods, freeing them up to race towards the finish line in what is shaping up to be another interesting battle.
As of this writing, Aaron Burmeister leads the pack as the first musher in and out of the Shaktoolik checkpoint. He holds an hour and a half lead on Dallas Seavey, who has also passed through that village, and is in hot pursuit. At this point of the race, Seavey's team is running much faster than Burmeister, but with 220 miles yet to go, it is still anyone's race.
Mitch Seavey is currently running in third place out of Unalakleet, with Aliy Zirkle just 18 minutes back. Jessie Royer is holding down the fifth spot out on the trail, while four-time champ Jeff King is running in seventh place overall, but has banked up a bit more rest time at the moment.
As the teams have traveled west and north, the temperatures have gotten much colder. In fact, they are bitterly cold at the moment, which is a reminder that this race is still held in Alaska during the winter. Yesterday morning the mercury hovered around -30ºF (-34ºC), although the winds were mercifully light. Hard packed snow on the trails has made conditions better than they were at the start of the event, when the race was forced north to Fairbanks due to a lack of snow on the traditional Iditarod route.
With more than 200 miles to go before the winner reaches Nome, the race is truly still up for grabs. With so many good mushers lurking near the top, it'll come down to whomever has the best strategy for resting and racing heading into the final stages of the race, and who has the fastest dogs. This could be the year that Zirkle ends her frustrations after finishing second to both Mitch and Dallas Seavey each of the past three years. Then again, either one of those two men could bring the title back home again this year. But don't count Burmeister out just yet. The 15-year veteran is racing well, and he could stave off the competition to claim his first title as well.
It is now looking like the first mushers could reach Nome as early as Wednesday. We'll just have to watch the weather and trail conditions to see how everything plays out over the next couple of days. With so many contenders within striking distance of one another, it should certainly be interesting to see how this all plays out.