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Mushers with Bethel roots hit the Iditarod trail

Pete Kaiser, winner of the 2019 Iditarod, walks out of his dog trailer.
Matt Faubion
Alaska Public Media
Pete Kaiser, winner of the 2019 Iditarod, walks out of his dog trailer.

This morning, March 4, Iditarod sled dog teams are making their way toward McGrath on the Kuskokwim River. Many are still working their way through the Alaska Range.

Bethel Musher Pete Kaiser, who won the race in 2019, said that the weather looks good for the first part of the race.

“The weather looks pretty mild, and I guess I don’t anticipate any surprises with the dogs, at least for the first few-hundred miles,” Kaiser said before the start of the race.

Jessica Klejka, who grew up in Bethel, is competing in her third Iditarod. She placed 21st last year. She said that her team likes to run fast, faster than a past five-time winner, but that involves a tradeoff in rest strategy.

“Dallas Seavey has a different strategy. He runs a little bit slower, but they take shorter rests,” Klejka said. “We’re slightly faster, but we take more time in checkpoints for resting. You have trade-offs.”

Seavey has won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race five times. He said that the Kuskokwim 300 was very important to his development as a musher because in his younger years, it was the only Iditarod qualifying race that accepted competitors under 18 years old.

“I ran the [Kuskokwim 300] when I was 16 and again when I was 17 because my first Iditarod, I turned 18 the day before the race started, which didn’t give me much time to get qualified as an adult,” Seavey said.

If Seavey is first to cross the finish line in Nome this year, he will be the first musher ever to win the race six times. Right now it is too early to predict which mushers will be in the group of front-runners in this year’s race. Judging from earlier races on the northern route, that usually becomes apparent by the time teams reach the Yukon River.

Judging from past performance, both Kaiser and Seavey are likely to be among the top 10 finishers, though Seavey lost part of his team this winter when they were hit by a snowmachiner.

Johanna Eurich's vivid broadcast productions have been widely heard on National Public Radio since 1978. She spent her childhood speaking Thai, then learned English as a teenager and was educated at a dance academy, boarding schools and with leading intellectuals at her grandparents' dinner table in Philadelphia.