by Tommy Wells
Bethel musher Pete Kaiser has done it again! He has finished this year’s Kuskokwim 300 race in first place, which makes it his 4th victory in a row.
Glare ice and snowless conditions on parts of the route made for a tough K300 race this year.
Kaiser won his record-setting fourth consecutive K-300 title on Sunday morning when he mushed his team across the finish line in Bethel. With the win, the Bethel resident became the first musher to win the Kuskokwim 300 four years in a row.
Kaiser completed one of the more brutal K300 races early Sunday when he mushed his team of eight dogs across the finish line. He finished at 9:17 a.m. and completed the re-routed race in a mark of 38 hours, 37 minutes and 26 seconds.
“It was probably one of the toughest if not the toughest races I’ve ever done,” said Kaiser after pushing his team across the finish line. “It probably feels like the toughest because I just got done with it.”
Due to poor river ice conditions of the K300’s traditional route on the Kuskokwim River to Aniak, race officials were forced to re-route the race’s course inland. The end result, although safer for teams, was a bit more arduous – considering long stretches of glare ice on parts of the course. Overall, the new course – which was basically a pair of long loops – consisted of glare ice for more than half of the race.
Because of the rough trail, many of the teams struggled with sliding sleds and traction. A total of six mushers scratched from the race after about 200 miles.
“Even living out here for my whole life, and we get these conditions a lot, it is not something you get used to and really comfortable with,” he said.
Brent Sass grabbed the early lead in the race. After departing the starting point in Bethel, he guided his 12-dog team into Tuluksak in first place. He checked in at 11:16, four minutes ahead of Jessie Holmes. Nine-time race champion Jeff King was third into the first checkpoint, coming in at 11:22.
Holmes passed Sass on the trail later in the race and rolled into the race’s halfway checkpoint in first.
Neither Holmes or Sass saw their luck hold out. Holmes, noted one of his dogs had developed a limp while a couple of others had dark urine – a sign of dehydration – so he dropped out shortly after departing the midpoint part. Sass, like Holmes, decided his team had suffered enough of the glare ice conditions after the first loop and scratched.
Kaiser continued on.
Shortly after departing the halfway checkpoint, Kaiser’s team shifted into high gear. They quickly made up ground. They passed Joar Leifseth Ulsom during his mandatory stop at the final checkpoint and never looked back. By the time he sailed across the finish line, he had built a lead of more than 90 minutes.
Ulsom finished second in the final standings, checking in at 10:51 a.m.
King placed third, coming in at 1:19 p.m., more than an hour ahead of Ray Redington Jr. and Matthew Faillor, who placed fourth and fifth, respectively.
Richie Diehl also turned in a strong outing. The Aniak standout finished sixth overall at 3:57 p.m.
Several mushers scratched during the race: Jessie Holmes, Aaron Burmeister, Brent Sass, Hugh Neff, Olivia Neff, and Cim Smyth. As of publishing time four mushers were still on the trail: Niklas Wikstrand, Thomas Carl, Isaac Underwood, and Victoria Hardwick.
This year race organizers decided to change the traditional Kuskokwim 300 race trail for safety concerns. The trail starts at the Charles Family Lake by Tundra Ridge where the start/finish line is set up. It follows the Atmautluak Trail for a bit, then veers right. There is one point where it crosses the Kuskokwim River to the Bogus Creek checkpoint side. Then it loops back to Bethel for another round.
K300 Race Results
1 Peter Kaiser 38:47:26
2 Joar L. Ulsom 40:21:31
3 Jeff King 42:49:55
4 Ray Redington Jr. 43:41:37
5 Matthew Failor 43:54:05
6 Richie Diehl 44:57:11
7 Mike Williams Jr. 49:50:00
8 Joshua Cadzow, finished (time not available)
9 Niklas Wikstrand
10 Thomas Carl
11 Isaac Underwood
12 Victoria Hardwick