Tuesday, January 22, 2008

K-300 Wrap Up

The Musher’s Banquet last night at the Cultural Center was lots of fun and lasted until nearly 10 pm. At the start of the banquet there were six mushers still on the trail, and while it was going on, Mike Williams Sr. and Jr. completed the race. Gerald Riley officially scratched in Akiachak, leaving Dave Tresino and Kyle Belleque as the only two mushers still in the race.

The format of the evening is dinner first, and then presentations to each musher who completed each race. Starting with the Red Lantern (last place) in the Akiak Dash, and then the Bogus Creek 150, and then the K-300, each musher is called to the podium to receive an envelope containing a patch for that race, a lovely belt buckle if it is the first time they have run that race, a check for their winnings, and sometimes additional gifts given by the sponsors. Each musher is invited to “say a few words”—usually thanking their sponsors, family, and people who helped them, with dog food, dog handling, training or inspiration. Many of our local mushers are painfully shy; some don’t say a word, just take their envelope, shake hands with the three or four people on stage, and leave. Some simply step to the mike and say “quyana cak nak” (thank you very much).

The more verbal mushers told stories of the trail, some long, some short, but most about the incredible difficulty caused by this year’s weather. The race started out in beautiful conditions. A little warm in the high 20s but with lots of snow, no wind, and a nice clear night. Twenty-four hours later it was ten degrees warmer, no snow at all, tremendous wind and water everywhere. Musher after musher spoke of trail markers standing in the middle of lakes, or actually floating in current.

Hugh Neff flipped over backward in a deep hole and got completely soaked from the neck down. He was near a village and was taken into someone’s home to dry out, which prevented severe hypothermia. Paul Gebhardt and Jeff King spoke of water that was two feet deep. Ed Iten watched his team splashing ahead of him when suddenly all he could see was their heads because they were swimming. Sled dogs, on the whole, dislike water and hate to swim. He gave them a “Gee!” command to go right and his leader swam in a big circle to the right, climbed over the wheel dogs, snagged his tug on the gangline and there was one big thrashing mess as Ed’s sled sank in the water. He grabbed hold of dogs, harness, lines, anything he could grab, and hauled the whole mess out before any disaster occurred.

The consistent lesson of the K-300 over the years is that the weather can do just about anything. We’ve had every kind of weather from 40 below to 40 above, freezing rain to warm rain, lots of snow to none at all—sometimes in the same race. Most of the mushers said that yeah, they’ll be back next year; it has to be better weather than this year. It just couldn’t be any worse. Those are dangerous words.

The winners of the three races were Ryan Housler in the Akiak Dash; Pete Kaiser in the Bogus Creek 150; and Mitch Seavey in the Kuskokwim 300. The Humanitarian Award, which is chosen by the veterinary staff and presented to the musher who, in their opinion, takes the most outstanding care of their dog team based on their level of experience, was presented to Melissa Owens. The Best in the West Award, which goes to the first local area musher to finish K-300, was presented to Myron Angstmann (who also MC'd and is shown in two of the photos).

So the races are essentially done for another year. Checkpoints are closed and dismantled. Checkers and vets are back home in Bethel. The Finish Line has been taken down, hopefully before it sank in the river. Headquarters will shut down today. And yet, there are still two teams sitting in Tuluksak who have not officially scratched. They have now been there since noon yesterday. The wind has blown all night long at something like 50 mph with stronger gusts frequently. The Kuskokwim River is practically flowing again. Conditions have gone from bad to what must be considered life-threatening.

One must consider what the race’s responsibility is to these two mushers who haven’t declared themselves scratched. The machinery of volunteers and support for the race is now gone. Further efforts of these two mushers to drive their dogs in to Bethel is highly likely to end up in a Search and Rescue call out, putting people’s lives at stake to save them. In my opinion, there should be a limit to how long a competitor can maintain that he or she is still in the race, and a time when the Race Committee can say “Sorry; you’ve scratched.” These last two mushers have reached that point. It has been 36 hours since the winner crossed the Finish Line. That seems long enough.

Photos by Dutch and The Tundra PA.

1. Jeff King, Martin Buser, Rohn Buser, and Ed Iten swap stories over lasagna.

2. Ryan Housler, winner of the Akiak Dash.

3. Pete Kaiser, winner of the Bogus Creek 150.

4. Mitch Seavey, winner of the Kuskokwim 300.

5. Rohn Buser, just because he is such a cutie and I love his dimples.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your informative coverage of the K300! I was directed here from a Cabela's Iditarod talk forum friend. I agree, I think the two remaining musher's should be scratched. Hard to believe that the race doesn't have a scratch rule in place to cover this. They should! And yes, that Rohn Buser is a cutie! Thanks so much for the pictures, I'm a huge fan of his Dad as well! :)~Diana

Tuesday, January 22, 2008 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I can't thank you enough for all the updates and commentary. Once again I find myself out of town for K300 weekend and once again I hear myself saying "next year" Hopefully next year will not be the same. As always your words have created a splendid mental picture. thanks-
Dr. G.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008 11:19:00 PM  
Blogger The Tundra PA said...

Diana--glad you stopped by, and thanks for commenting; my readers who come for dog mushing rarely do.

Dr. G--gosh, thanks! Guess you had a REALLY good reason this year, ah? And congratulations to you and The Mrs. on your new little bundle of joy! (I think life's about to change in the G household...)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 8:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it sure was a tough year for the racers... did you ever hear what caused Jessica Klejka to scratch?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger The Tundra PA said...

anon 11:28--all Jessica said at the banquet was that if it had not been for the weather she would have finished. Given the conditions at the time that she scratched, I'm guessing it was the wind; things had not yet melted so badly. Jackie Larson, who also scratched at Aniak, said a gust of wind hit his team so hard it literally picked them up and turned them around 180 degrees. That's tough stuff to endure.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 11:22:00 AM  

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