by K.J. Lincoln
The 40th running of the Kuskokwim 300 is in the books, with all 18 mushers and their teams safely home after making the trek from Bethel to Aniak and back.
On Monday after race weekend, K300 organizers hosted a banquet, the awards ceremony, a live auction, and a chance for mushers to tell their ‘tales from the trail’.
It was also an opportunity for them to thank their sponsors and supporters.
The feast prepared by local chef Tiffany Tony was extraordinary. Mushers and their families, race officials and volunteers, and community members enjoyed plates of roast beef, smashed potatoes, oriental salad, dinner rolls, soaked cakes, brownies, and baklava.
A slideshow of images from the races – K300, Bogus Creek 150, and the Akiak Dash – flicked across the big screen while folks enjoyed their dinner.
The awards ceremony began with the Akiak Dash. Race Marshal Bill Eggiman introduced the race and what makes it unique.
“The level of sportsmanship is wonderful,” he said.
The 8th place finisher in the Akiak Dash was Bethel’s Nate DeHaan. He raced only after 2 weeks of recovery from ACL surgery on his knee. He warmly thanked his wife for all her help.
“She is the heart of the team,” DeHaan said. DeHaan, an elite athlete, has also competed on the American Ninja Warrior show.
Winning 5th place was 15 year old Raymond Alexie of Kwethluk.
“I had fun racing with the men,” he smiled. He was also named Rookie of the Year.
For the first place award, 21 year old Terrell Andrews of Bethel was presented a carved wood mask sculpture in the shape of a canine face made by artist Moses Tulim of Chevak. He also took home $5550 for his top finish.
After the Akiak Dash awards, Kuskokwim 300 race manager Madelene Reichard took a few moments to thank everyone who helped put on the race and she covered everything from sponsors to shippers, truck support, the airlines, checkers and checkpoint cooks and volunteers, finish line help, radio news coverage, local stores, race headquarter workers, trophy makers, housing host families, trail markers, and trail use.
Introducing the Bogus Creek 150 was race marshal Luke Vanasse. He thanked the Bogus checkpoint volunteers who put on a Hawaiian theme for the racers. He also commented on the full moon that shone brightly during the race.
“How about that moon?” he said. “It could not have been a more beautiful year.”
3rd place finisher Nik Wikstrand from Norway who mushes with Team Kaiser thanked his sponsors.
“Thank you to Team Kaiser for letting me have my Alaskan adventure,” Wikstrand said.
Winner of the Bogus Creek 150, 15 year old Jason Pavilla of Kwethluk, who was also awarded the Rookie of the Year honors, accepted his award – a framed scene depicting a dog mushing theme – made by local artist John Oscar, originally of Tununak. He thanked his grandpa for letting him use his dogteam.
In between the Bogus Creek 150 and the K300 awards, folks enjoyed bidding for items during the live auction which included a female puppy from Jeff King’s Husky Homestead Kennel. She came up on stage and soon went home with her new family. Another puppy was also auctioned from the Team Kaiser Kennel of Bethel.
To start off the K300 awards, the Humanitarian Award was bestowed upon Willow musher Wade Marrs for his exemplary dog care and handling. Very pleased, he said that it is not the first time he won this award during his dog mushing career. He won it back in 2008 when he ran the Junior Iditarod where he placed 4th. Along with a gold pan, he was also given two round trip tickets on Alaska Airlines.
The next award presented was the Spirit of the Kuskokwim award which is to honor the musher who best exemplifies kindness, tenacity, strength, and flexibility along the trail. The prize was a pair of beaver mitts made by Sylvia Clark of Grayling. Checkers along the K300 voted unanimously, choosing Matt Scott of Bethel.
“I’m a bit shocked honestly,” he said. “Thank you so much. This community is the reason I am where I am. I didn’t have anything to do with dogs 6 years ago… I just want to say thank you to everyone who lives on this river. You’re an amazing people.”
Longtime K300 Race Marshal Nels Alexie also spoke, making everyone laugh, telling stories. This year is his last year and everyone bid him sincere thanks.
The K300 Rookie of the Year award was presented to John George of Akiachak who said he flipped a coin to do the K300 or the Bogus Creek 150.
“Isaac (Underwood) was like an angel to me,” he said of the race. “I kept trying to keep up with him.”
The mushers praised the checkpoints for their volunteers and for the delicious spreads of food.
Runner up and four-time champion Pete Kaiser was awarded the Best in the West award, First to Aniak award, and also the Ryan Air Fastest elapsed time from Tuluksak to the Finish award.
Meanwhile during the banquet and awards ceremony, K300 musher David Fitka of Marshall was still on the trail at the Tuluksak checkpoint. He won the Red Lantern award crossing the finish line on Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019 and taking home $4,272 in prize money.
With Fitka’s finish, this marked the first year that there were no musher scratches.
The 2019 K300 Champion Matt Failor accepted his first place award, concluding the awards ceremony.
“It’s a world class race,” he said. “It’s the first race I raced, I’m very proud to be on the list of champions.”