It was the perfect day for the Kuskokwim 300 Race Committee’s first local sled dog race: sunny, no wind, and a chilly negative 15 degrees Fahrenheit. It was hard to believe that the K300 Season Opener had been pushed back a week because of warmer-than-normal temperatures that created unsafe trail conditions.
Cold temperatures have finally arrived, and 17 mushers showed up on Dec. 15, 2018 for the 32- mile race in which the top 15 mushers split a $20,000 purse.
Dogs tugged at their harnesses as mushers concentrated on their preparations and massed at the starting line for the first K300 race of the season. Sixteen mushers took off in a mass start. The seventeenth, Solomon Olick, missed the starting time. He followed behind, some minutes after, but managed to catch up later down the trail.
Mushers ran from the Charles Family Lake behind Bethel's Tundra Ridge neighborhood to Atmautluak and back. The total distance was about 32 miles. John George of Akiachak took first place and the $2,700 dollar winner’s purse with a time of 2:16:16. However, $100 was deducted out of his winnings because he ran without a sled bag. A sled bag is required in the race rules, and can be used to hold dogs that are injured or are not pulling. George said that the trail conditions were "too groomed," and that he wants more of a challenge next time.
It was also Abby Klager’s first sled dog race in Alaska. She just moved to Bethel from Anchorage two months ago and has spent that time training.
"I started thinking about what I wanted to do in life and, you know, I like dogs, and snow, and being outside, and covering ground, and I guess my dream job is to be a musher. And I started looking into that, and I said, ‘I guess I need to go to Alaska.’ And so I did," said Klager.
Klager did come to the race with some experience. "Some puppy teams here and there in Wisconsin, and hopped on sleds with dogs," she said. But nothing on the scale of what she saw in Bethel. Klager had tumbled from her sled just a few hundred feet from the finish line, but got back up to ride into last place with a big smile.
In order from first to last place, here are the top 15 mushers who will split $20,000: John George, Mike Williams Jr., Father Alexander Larson, Greg Larson; Peter Kaiser; Robert Larson; George Manutoli; John Simon; Lewis Pavila; Niklas Wikstrand; Joe Demantle; Tory Fitzpatrick; Ryan Jackson; Solomon Olick; and Victoria Hardwick.
The next local race, the Holiday Classic, will run next week on Dec. 22, 2018 so long as trail conditions remain safe.