Nome readies for Iditarod finale |

Nome readies for Iditarod finale

NOME, Alaska – The burled arch in this old gold rush town is up and ready for the grand finale of the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. However, no one can predict who will reach it first.The winner is due to arrive here late Tuesday or early Wednesday. But who that might be remained a toss-up Monday between the last two men to win the Iditarod – Lance Mackey of Fairbanks and four-time champion Jeff King of Denali Park – who were running a very tight race on the last leg of the trek to Nome.”It’s a two-way race. Right now it looks like either Jeff or Lance, but a lot of things can happen,” said Dale Myers, a longtime volunteer who was hanging up Iditarod sponsor banners along the snow-packed chute leading to the finish line under the wooden arch erected this week on Front Street.Mackey, 37, and King, 51, were practically running neck-and-neck as they worked their teams up the icy Bering Sea coast.Mackey was the first musher into the Koyuk checkpoint, clocking in at 1:19 p.m. Monday, followed 8 minutes later by King. The two remained in Koyuk, a village about 170 miles from Nome, before Mackey headed out at 5:41 p.m., trailed by King 16 minutes later.Also en route to Koyuk from Shaktoolik were Ken Anderson of Fairbanks, four-time Iditarod winner Martin Buser of Big Lake, Ramey Smyth of Willow and Hans Gatt, a three-time Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race from Whitehorse, Yukon. The top 30 finishers will get a piece of the $875,000 purse. The winner gets $69,000 and a new truck worth $45,000.”I keep going back and forth between Jeff and Lance,” Myers said. “I have no preference, naturally.”On the one hand, he said, a victory for King would tie him with Rick Swenson of Two Rivers, the Iditarod’s only five-time winner. Swenson was in 10th place Monday evening.But Mackey also would make history with a second Iditarod win. Last year he became the first musher to record back-to-back wins in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race and the Iditarod. Mackey also won his fourth consecutive Yukon Quest last month and is trying to repeat last year’s double win.For many in Nome, there was still too much to do getting ready Monday for the race’s end to spend much time on speculations.At Iditarod central, in Nome’s small convention center, volunteers from across the nation staffed tables heaped with souvenirs. Others hung welcome flags with mushers’ names.Outside, more volunteers were busy sorting bales of straw and bags of dog food forwarded by mushers for their teams. There were chains to line up in tight rows, where dog teams will be rigged up and tended to after mushers cross the finish line.Kathleen Zwolak, a longtime volunteer from Wadsworth, Ill., was coordinating dog lot preparations. She also had other dog-care duties earlier in the race and hasn’t had much time to keep tabs on the competition.”Between Lance and Jeff, I don’t have clue,” she said. “I know both are awesome mushers and both have their own strategies. It’s anybody’s guess.”Southern Californians Luanna Rugh and Nancy Wilson were just happy to be in Nome for a race they’ve longed to see in person for years.Rugh, of Laguna Woods, and Wilson, of San Clemente, couldn’t get their husbands to come along. For Wilson, the Iditarod is on her bucket list, “things to do before I kick the bucket,” and Nome is making that possible, she said.”I can’t wait,” she said.”This is a dream,” Rugh said.Eleven mushers have scratched since the start of the race and one has been withdrawn. A field of 83 mushers remains on the trail.Two dogs also have died in this year’s race, including a 3-year-old female that was struck by a snowmobile.Race officials said Lorne, from the team of Jennifer Freking of Finland, Minn., died of injuries Sunday night. The accident occurred on the frozen Yukon River near Koyukuk.—On the

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