by Delta Discovery Staff
Aniak musher Richie Diehl and his Real Diehl Racing team have made history with their first ever win of the Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race. Diehl raced his team across the finish line on the Kuskokwim River in front of Bethel at 6:38am with a total elapsed time of 36 hours and 8 minutes to the cheers of race fans. He had 11 dogs in harness.
Diehl is also the 2021 Bogus Creek 150 champion which he won on January 31st. This year is Team Real Diehl eleventh K300 finish. For his win he will be awarded $25,500.
Sixteen mushers and their teams began the Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race here in Bethel, the 42nd running of Alaska’s premier mid-distance mushing event. The race began with a mass start on the Kuskokwim River near the Small Boat Harbor entrance.
The dogs were raising bedlam in their eagerness to get going while busy mushers and their handlers were making the necessary preparations. Fans lined the race route to cheer on the mushers from their vehicles in observance of COVID-19 precautions. Anticipation, electricity, and excitement filled the balmy 34˚F degree air as the race got underway.
Diehl mushed across under the K300 banner to the cheers of the welcoming finish line crowd. His team was wagging their tails as he greeted each one before getting his photo taken in the winner’s circle with his beloved lead dogs. He snacked his dogs some salmon before doing the post win interview with finish line reporters.
“It’s pretty incredible,” he said of his win. “This team is awesome… after the Bogus I knew this was that team that could potentially win and so I went out racing from the get go. From start to here they went hard and they did awesome.”
Coming in second place was Pete Kaiser of Bethel. Kaiser is a five-time champion of the Kuskowim 300 race having won in 2014-2018 and again in 2020. Kaiser is also the 2019 Iditarod Champion. Kaiser couldn’t be more pleased with his friend’s victory as they greeted each other at the finish line.
In third place was Nicolas Petit of Big Lake, Alaska. He had 10 dogs. During the race, Petit lost the trail north of Bethel as he approached the halfway checkpoint.
According to race updates, he said that he came upon a section of trail that had been poorly marked and followed what looked like dog tracks. This led him on a different route that clearly cost him time.
“Earlier, Race Organizers had received a call from Richie Diehl on the trail, who was in the lead approaching Bethel. Diehl reported that there was a poorly marked section of trail and that while he was able to find his way because of his familiarity with the area, it might cause trouble for teams following behind him. A trail marker was dispatched immediately to find and repair problematic section of trail. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to get there before Petit came through,” said the K300 Race Committee officials.
“Because Petit was the only musher to be negatively impacted race officials met to determine if any corrective action was justified. A call was made to the tracking company handling the K300 and they determined that as much as 15-16 minutes may have been lost by the detour.
“The race committee accepted responsibility for the error and deducted 10 minutes from Petit’s remaining mandatory rest to be taken on his final stop at Tuluksak. Three other racers left the trail in other locations but officials determined that those situations didn’t meet the narrow criteria for an adjustment, primarily because all other racers successfully navigated those areas.”
Petit came into the finish with a time of 37 hours 9 minutes.
Father Alexander Larson of Napaskiak finished in 4th position. His time was 37 hours 45 minutes. Aniak musher Isaac Underwood finished 5th.
Jessica Klejka, the only lady musher in the field finished in 8th place. Her total time was 39 hours 18 minutes. She had 9 dogs in harness when she crossed the finish line here at her hometown of Bethel.
Three mushers scratched from the race: Robert Redington of Willow, Josh Cadzow of Fort Yukon, and Lewis Pavila of Kwethluk. As of Sunday night, there were still 1 musher on the trail: Reese Madden of Nome. Madden’s tracker history noted that he was down to six dogs at the Tuluksak #3 checkpoint. He was past the turnaround and now headed back to Tuluksak #4 late Sunday night.
Bethel’s Nate DeHaan finished at 1:47am on Monday morning.
It was a nice Valentine’s Day weekend to race with fair weather with lows ranging from 24˚F to 12˚F and highs from 37˚F to 24˚F. Fans were happy to watch the race and social media blew up with posts from the K300 and Akiak Dash races. Congratulations to all the mushers and their amazing dog teams.