George Manutoli of Akiachak took first place in the Akiak Dash on Saturday, winning the 65-mile race in 6 hours and 42 minutes. Though the sprint race was Manutoli’s first mushing victory, a schedule change meant that the dog team he was racing earned its third first place finish this season.
Manutoli's sled scraped across the glare ice of the Charles Family Lake to the finish. He wore a large white coat, and frost surrounded a big smile on his face. Friends rushed towards him, congratulating him on his victory and taking pictures. Manutoli then thanked his dogs, walking up the line and rubbing each of their faces.
When asked how he felt about his win, Manutoli spoke only of his team. "Yeah, these four puppies that I helped John raise, they look good," he said, laughing.
John Simon lent Manutoli dogs from his kennel to run the Akiak Dash. “This whole team," Manutoli explained, "they ran the 150.”
Manutoli was referring to the Bogus Creek 150 Sled Dog Race, which took place last week. It’s the same team that Maurice Andrews won first place with in that race, and it’s the team that Andrews used to win the Season Opener Race in late December. Andrews arrived at the Akiak Dash finish line just as Manutoli was leaving.
When asked why his dogs were so fast this year, Andrews said, "They just like to run. Got a good team."
Most years, the same team would not be able to compete in both the Dash and the Bogus. But this wasn’t most years. For the first time, the Kuskokwim 300 collapsed its route and placed a checkpoint in Bethel. That meant that there was too much musher traffic coming into town when the Akiak Dash would normally be starting, so the sprint race was postponed a week, opening the door to local teams competing in both races.
That was the case for Ryan Jackson of Akiak, who says that he mushes to feel peace.
“You just hear the dogs going, and it’s just a wonderful feeling," Jackson said. "I love that feeling.”
Jackson finished fifth in the Akiak Dash, racing the dog team his brother Cameron Jackson had used to take second in the Bogus Creek 150 the weekend before.
Multiple teams said they were able to compete in the Dash because the Bogus fell on a separate weekend. Mushers aren’t allowed to enter both races, but those rules don’t apply to the dogs.
K300 Race Manager Madelene Reichard says that the K300 Race Committee hopes to return to holding both races on the same weekend next year.