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LISTEN: Musher Fr. Alexander Larson looks forward to this weekend’s K300

Fr. Alexander Larson and his brother, Jackie Larson. Fr. Larson finished in 4th place in the 2021 Kuskokwim 300. Feb. 14, 2021 in Bethel, Alaska.
Katie Basile
Fr. Alexander Larson and his brother, Jackie Larson. Fr. Larson finished in 4th place in the 2021 Kuskokwim 300. Feb. 14, 2021 in Bethel, Alaska.

In the lead-up to the 2024 Kuskokwim 300 (K300), KYUK reporter Francisco Martínezcuello has been having conversations with members of the local mushing community.

Here’s a transcript of a conversation with K300 musher Fr. Alexander Larson that aired on Coffee@KYUK on Thursday, Jan. 18.

The transcript has been lightly edited for reading flow. There may be some transcription errors.

KYUK (Francisco Martínezcuello): Good morning Fr. Larson. How are you?

Fr. Alexander Larson: Good morning. I'm doing fine. Good morning.

KYUK: You have coffee with you, are you drinking coffee?

Larson: Oh, no, I had coffee this morning.

KYUK: Okay good. Well, I'm drinking mine. So one of us is. So where are you from? Originally, sir?

Larson: I'm originally from Napaskiak, 7 miles below Bethel.

KYUK: Is that where you're currently training out of or no?

Larson: I am here training dogs at Napaskiak.

KYUK: And how has training been going? I know we're eight days away and the weather has been challenging. Talk to me about the team and how you've been adjusting to this weather.

Larson: Oh, geez. The beginning was really good. The training itself went pretty good and now the – weather-wise it's really hard for us locals, where there's no road system and where we can go out and run dogs. It's been really hard to go out for the past couple of weeks.

KYUK: So you have to have been pretty creative with your training? Talk to me about that.

Larson: I had to look around so much to run my dogs. The trail ice, where it’s, where there's no ice. And when it gets warm, it's really punchy for my dogs to run.

KYUK: Yeah. And speaking about your dogs, how many are in your kennel?

Larson: I have 16, but 12 of them are running right now. Couple of running dogs of mine are injured from the trails.

KYUK: Right. So how do you, I guess how do you, I know this is kind of out of your hands in this sense of like how, you know the weather has been, but I guess how do you try to keep them healthy?

Larson: I try my best to keep them healthy. Slow runs, and there's times when I run my sled I get carried away and let them run to let, you know, that makes a difference. Where you got to be careful and watch your dogs as much as you can while you're running. Plus the trail itself, you watch the trail. See how that goes.

KYUK: Right. And so can you talk to us about the dogs, like what are their names? You know, who's the lead dog?

Larson: I have a couple of lead dogs. One I got from Jeff King is something else. My dogs love him up in front. They switch gears when I put him up there, but I've been training with the slower, older male, my main leader Blue who I got from Mitch Seavey, my breeding from Mitch Seavey. I have a couple from Jesse Holmes.

KYUK: Oh really?

Larson: Yes. And my main leader is one of the injured dogs. So we'll see what happens. I was going to – I decided to stay in the race, but there’s two leaders that I depend on. The female is, gee whiz... Noon, that’s her name. And Tulu is the one from Mitch Seavey I got is one of the leaders I’ve got.

KYUK: And how old is she?

Larson: She is going on five. I ran her when I first raced the K300.

KYUK: And how many K300 races have you competed in?

Larson: I ran it two times. The first year was really tough going up Kuskokwim, up Bogus, not to Bogus but main Kuskokwim above Tuluksak and back from Bethel, twice. That first year I ran it I came in fourth. The second time I raced was all the way to Aniak. Man, that was long. I didn't know it was that long with dogs, but it was nice scenery, like nice trails to go backcountry. It was beautiful.

KYUK: Is that – I'm sorry.

Larson: And that over the years I’ve run dogs, it's been a while I’ve run dogs. It's been a long time. Now that I'm a priest, it's really, really hard for me to go out, just to go out and train. It's not like the way I want to. Church comes first before anything else. And I didn't run dogs for six years. Only after Bishop David, the late Bishop David, came to give me a blessing to run dogs again. Now, our bishop here, I'm so happy for him to be an understanding bishop who gives me a blessing to still run dogs.

A Russian Orthodox icon is pinned to Father Alexander Larson's sled. Father Alexander Larson finished in 3rd place in the 2021 Kuskokwim 300. February 14, 2021 in Bethel, Alaska.
Katie Basile
A Russian Orthodox icon is pinned to Father Alexander Larson's sled. Father Alexander Larson finished in 3rd place in the 2021 Kuskokwim 300. February 14, 2021 in Bethel, Alaska.

KYUK: Can I ask how long you've been a Father?

Larson: I am going on 18 years. I started mushing right out from high school. And one year we did get together, you know the graduates, afterwards, you know how they do it, you know, get together, and I told them that one day I'll race the K300, and I did. I did short, short sprint races over the years. Local races for so many years. One year I won all the local races just like the way Raymond Alexie [has]. I'm so happy for them. For young adults now. Anyway, they both, Pavila, Jason [Pavila] and Raymond Alexie both were my altar boys when I was stationed at Kwethluk, St. Nicholas up in Kwethluk. I was up there for 13 years. They both were my altar boys up in the church. So happy for them.

KYUK: And so, yeah, I guess that's a good segue for my other question for you is, like, what do you think of the future of the sport of dog racing?

Larson: Oh, jeez, that's really, you know, weather-wise it’s getting to be harder and harder for winter changing so much. I asked my wife, 'maybe it’s time that I retire?' She laughed at me, ‘You ain't gonna stop running dogs.’ I tried, but I can't. It's something that I love. But the church comes first before anything else, I told you that. It's something that I have to work with along with how I run dogs. Over the years with my position here wasn't [what it is] it'd be a different story, I guess, to run the K300. But trying with 12 dogs, 14 dogs, it's really hard. And the future for this, it's getting harder.

KYUK: So why do you love racing?

Larson: I enjoy racing so much. When I was a young man, young kid, my father, late father who made me a team to run dogs. And get up early in the morning to run dogs, just to run them over the years when it used to be so cold out. I love running dogs because that helps me a lot. As you know we go through life, stressful life and especially out here in the village. Or, you know, everybody where you as a family like living next door neighbors, we know each other so much that we... it helps my stressors.

KYUK: But it's another calling, right? I mean you're still kind of trying to understand your place in the world and being connected to the earth and Mother Nature. I mean, is that also something to it?

Larson: Yes. You know, when I’m running dogs that gives me back a strength when I come back to do my work. It gives me strength to look forward for a young guys, young boys to be interested [in the sport]. Even my grandkids to look forward to this: how you should be taking care of dogs, this and that and all that stuff. Plus, you know, when my position here is really something like a 24-hour. You're on the phone. You're on with somebody, you're in when you're talking, still talking. Night and day.

KYUK: Well do you have anything else you want to say? Our time is running low. I could talk to you all day, though.

Larson: I see. The time is very – well, I'll see how much I can get out of these dogs. I told one of the mushers this: ‘See, I'm getting old. I'm not getting younger. When I race, I’ll have no time to chat, no time to help you with this and that.’ She laughed, ‘Yeah, right.’ Well, that's who I am. I love talking with people. That’s what I love to do: help figure something out, you know?

KYUK: Well, good luck to you Father. And, you know, we'll say a prayer for you and your dogs to remain healthy. And I look forward to seeing you out there on the trails.

Larson: Okay, thank you so much.

KYUK: Thank you.

Francisco Martínezcuello was the KYUK News Reporting Fellow from November 2022 through January 2024. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.