The 40th Annual Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race officially concluded at 3:21 p.m. on Tuesday. The Red Lantern award went to David Fitka, who crossed the Bethel finish line after 92 hours and 51 minutes on the trail.
Dozens of people, including race fans, volunteers, organizers, and fellow mushers were waiting under the moose-antlered arch to greet him. The crowd included his brother Nick and daughter Kimberly, who flew down from Fitka’s home community of Marshall on the lower Yukon River.
Amid cheering, clapping, and the ringing of Christmas bells, Fitka buried his snow hook in the Kuskokwim river ice with five dogs attached to his sled, the minimum number required to finish the race. This year's K300 champion Matthew Failor was there to shake his hand.
Fitka grew up mushing with his father and brothers and has competed in races throughout the Kuskokwim and Yukon communities. Fitka returned to the K300 this year after more than a decade away from the sport. He travels across the state working construction, and he had to give away most of his kennel in 2007 because he could not be home to care for his dogs.
Fitka feeds his dogs subsistence caught foods, mostly fish, and does not buy commercial dog food, so he needs to be home to tend nets as well as his dog yard. Along the trail, Fitka said that he fed his dogs sheefish for their oily content. He ate Clif Bars.
Fitka said that he entered the K300 for the prize money. His 18th place finish awards him $4,272. Over the last few years, Fitka has been rebuilding his kennel with the help of his family. He has 15 dogs and wants expand to 25 and plans to use his winnings to help him get there.
With 18 mushers beginning and ending this year’s K300, the race did not have any mushers scratch for the first time in its 40-year history. A hard trail with mild temperatures and a bright, full moon lighting the path helped bring all the mushers back to Bethel.