Sat, Mar 10, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Mackey leads at halfway point of Iditarod sled race

AP , IDITAROD, ALASKA

Mitch Seavey, of Seward, Alaska, attends to one of his dogs in Iditarod, Alaska, on Thursday.

PHOTO: AP

Lance Mackey was the first to reach the halfway point in the 1,770km Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, putting him on course to join his father and his brother as Iditarod champions.

But Paul Gebhardt, who finished third last year, was positioning himself on Thursday as a spoiler -- just six minutes behind Mackey in reaching Iditarod, a once bustling gold mining community and now a ghost town of dilapidated and collapsed buildings.

Meanwhile, a search for rookie musher Deborah Bicknell, 61, of Juneau, was a success. The search was launched Thursday after Bicknell left the Rainy Pass checkpoint on Wednesday morning but never arrived in Rohn.

The 77km run from Rainy Pass to Rohn was a particularly treacherous stretch where far more experienced mushers had gotten lost, with some flipping and crashing their sleds on the icy, snow-barren trail.

Bicknell was spotted on Thursday afternoon from the air driving her team on a trail through Ptarmigan Pass, a route formerly used in the race, said race spokesman Chas St George.

"It appears she took the wrong trail," St George said.

She was seen driving her dog team 29km from the Rohn checkpoint. Both she and her dogs were tired but otherwise in good condition, race officials said after she arrived in Rohn.

Bicknell, who was in last place before getting lost, planned to rest before analyzing her situation Friday, St George said.

With temperatures falling to minus 37?C, Mackey was the first musher to arrive in Iditarod.

Mackey arrived just after midnight and won US$3,000 in gold nuggets. Gebhardt soon followed, while Ed Iten was third, just two minutes ahead of Mitch Seavey.

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