GRAND MARAIS, Minn. (AP) _ Defending champion John Barron of Willow, Alaska, was back in the lead Tuesday of the 400-mile John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Barron was the first to leave Devil's Track Landing, 13 miles north of Grand Marais, the seventh checkpoint of the race. He was headed for Grand Portage, 58 miles away.

Barron and his team left at 2:52 p.m., eight minutes ahead of Mark Stamm of Riverside, Wash.

Two other mushers joined them about an hour later. Steve Rasmussen of Melrose left at 4:01 p.m., and Doug Grilliot of Willow, Alaska, left 10 minutes later.

All mushers must take a six-hour layover when they reach Grand Portage before heading back to Devil's Track Landing for the finish. The winner could reach the finish line by midday Wednesday.

The race, which began Sunday in Duluth, will end at Devil's Track Landing instead of Grand Marais. Race officials shortened the course by 13 miles because of warm weather and deteriorating conditions closer to the lake.