It starts as people line up for the food at the 2020 Kuskokwim 300 Mushers Banquet. They talk about sled dog racing, and share little tricks and refinements they might use to make the next race better. A couple of mushers were talking about lining a sled runner with pink plastic.
“I know what the difference is. It’s just a newer style plastic with some additives and some waxes."
People elsewhere on the line are discussing how to care for dogs dropped during the race. One volunteer walked down the line to thank each musher she came across. Jim Lanier, the oldest musher to ever run the Kuskokwim 300, was looking at the weekend and thinking about coming back.
“All of these people in Bethel, I want to say thank you for hosting a terrific event,” he said. “If there is any way possible, I’ll come back.”
The deep connection between musher and community threaded through the whole evening, topping off a weekend that saw it expressed up and down the trail. And that love pays off. Organizers say that volunteers coming together to donate their time to the races, year after year, is the reason why the events put on by Bethel's K300 Race Committee have such rich purses compared to other sled dog races in the state. This year, those who ran the shorter Bogus Creek 150-mile race made a lot more money than even the race organizers anticipated, because there were a lot fewer competitors in the race.
Myron Angstman, who helped start these races decades ago, said that the first Kuskokwim 300 race purse totaled $12,000. But that was not even close to the kind of money that was handed out at the banquet on the night of Jan. 20. Angstman noted that following the finish of the 2020 Bogus Creek 150, “The last place finisher in the Bogus gets $8,000. I don’t know. I don’t follow it close enough to say, but I’m willing to bet that there isn't a dog race in the world that paid $8,000 to a last place finisher.”
Local champ Pete Kaiser, who won his fifth K-300 title this weekend as he prepares to defend his win last year in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, summed up the evening best, thanking the mushers who fly to Bethel to compete in the K300.
“I just want to thank all the fellow mushers for coming out here,” he said. “I know it’s a huge undertaking, but it’s a huge part of this race. It’s not always the biggest field, but the best mushers are here. And ever since I was a little kid watching this race, looking up to people, Jeff King, celebrity-like to us. I know Richie feels the same way. Just want to thank you guys for coming out. Spread the word. We’ve got the best race in the world. Hope to see you all next year."