by Tommy Wells
Jessica Klejka went into the Willow 300 looking to prove herself as one of the state’s top young sled dog racers. She can check that box on her bucket list as accomplished.
Klejka mushed her way to 17th in a field that included more than a few Iditarod veterans, including Nicolas Petit. The Bethel native guided her team of 10 dogs across the finish line at Su Landing at 1:07 p.m., completing the 300-mile trail in a time of 51 hours, 57 minutes.
Klejka’s team managed the course with an average speed of 5.37 miles per hour.
Petit won his fourth consecutive sled dog race of the season. He finished at 8:20 a.m. with a final time of 43:20.
Will Rhodes and Travis Beals finished second and third, respectively. Rhodes finished 1:10 behind Petit with a mark of 44:30. Beals, who finished second to Petit last week at the Tustumena 200, finished eight minutes behind Rhodes.
Norwegian musher Niklas Wikstrand finished in 9th place with a time of 48:41. Wikstrand mushes a team from the Kaiser Racing Kennels in Bethel.