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Seavey First Musher at McGrath

March 11, 1998

McGRATH, Alaska (AP) _ Mitch Seavey was the first musher into McGrath as the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race wrapped up its third day.

Seavey, of Sterling, Alaska, reached the interior city at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night with 15 dogs in harness. Eleven other mushers also were making the 48-mile run from Nikolai late Tuesday, including Linwood Fiedler of Willow, DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow and five-time winner Rick Swenson of Two Rivers.

From McGrath, 313 miles into the 1,100-mile trek to Nome, mushers head to Tokotna and Ophir before reaching the Yukon River at Ruby.

Earlier Tuesday, Swenson held the lead, reaching Nikolai after mushing through the toughest stretch of the race.

Veterans declared the 93-mile route from Rohn to Nikolai, the longest run between checkpoints, the roughest in years because of the bumpy trail.

Ramy Brooks of Fairbanks dinged up his sled after getting trapped in some sticks protruding from the snow. ``I’m pretty sleepy now,″ he said.

Charred trees stumps cover Farewell Burn after wildfire in 1997 scorched more than 360,000 acres. Buffalo that can spook teams roam the burn, and wind can whisk away trail markers.

``We got wrapped around a couple of trees,″ said Jonrowe, who has finished in the top five since 1995. ``It was hard to distinguish where the trail was. The trail’s as rough as I’ve ever seen it.″

There were no scratches among the 63 teams that began the race Sunday, the first time in recent memory that the Iditarod race passed its third day without dropouts. A winner could arrive at Nome as soon as Tuesday, if past nine-day race records hold.

Top mushers were strategizing in earnest Tuesday, plotting where to take a mandatory 24-hour rest. Teams traditionally pulled over at McGrath, a hub city that offers hot showers, a laundromat and restaurants. But elite mushers have started to go further to avoid distracting crowds.

Swenson, running his first Iditarod since he was withdrawn in 1996 for a dog death on his team, said his dogs showed no sign of wanting to go home.

The Two Rivers musher said this would be a rebuilding year for his team, which is full of veterans of other races, but has no dogs that have completed the Iditarod.

Defending champ Martin Buser of Big Lake, who says he never factored Swenson out, said there was no advantage to arriving first in Nikolai. ``And there’s certainly no psychological advantage to leaving first,″ Buser said as Seavey’s team took off in the warm sun.

Looking over teams at Nikolai, Seattle-based veterinarian Jean Dieden said the dogs were eating and drinking well _ a sign of health.

``I think the dogs are having fun,″ said Dieden, a race volunteer for the past several years. Warm weather tends to cut down on injuries, she said, because drivers run their teams a little slower.