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King wasn’t challenged as he maintained, and at times, extended his lead along the Bering Sea coast. He was trying to become the race’s second five-time winner.

Then Safety happened.

Safety is the last checkpoint in the race and the area was buffeted by extremely high winds and a ground blizzard.

A gust of wind blew King off course and into driftwood about 4 miles before Safety. He was able to get the team back together, but they wouldn’t run.

So he sat for 2 1/2 hours until he flagged down a passing snowmobiler. He hitched a ride to the checkpoint at Safety and scratched.

Zirkle had made up the hour on King, and conditions were so bad, she decided to stay in Safety — a checkpoint no one ever uses for a break.

“I had to stop in Safety for a couple of dogs and myself,” said Zirkle, who had frostbite on her hands.

When she went to sign in, the paper was blank. She asked workers where King was, and they were surprised she didn’t see him on the trail.

“I never saw Jeff out there, but I wasn’t on the trail most of the time. I don’t know where I was,” she said.

Because of the blizzard-like conditions, she wasn’t going to continue.

“I said, to heck with it, I’m staying,” Zirkle said.

She had a cup of coffee, talked to people in Safety about how bad the conditions were, took a nap.

And after she woke up, she saw Seavey breeze through the checkpoint, staying only 3 minutes. She walked outside, and decided to get on the trail.

Zirkle then left the checkpoint 19 minutes after Seavey and lost the race by 2 minutes.

“I wasn’t in a big hurry. I was racing for third, and I was telling my dogs, ‘We’ve done our work here, you guys have done a good job, let’s go home,’” Seavey said. “‘No rush, guys, let’s take it easy.’”

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