We are back in one of our favorite places in Alaska: in Bethel for Joar & Co. to race the 2016 Kuskokwim 300!
The competition is stiff. King, Buser (Dad and son both), Sass, Lance Mackey (along with 3,4,5 other members of the Mackey family, Neff, Gebhard, Baker — the list of absolute top-teams in the world, not least on this distance, they are here. Not least the 2015 Champion, the local Yupik musher and favorite: Pete Kaiser. Pete took the race by storm last year. An Alaskan Native from Bethel, he was the first local to win this amazing and very very tough race in 29 years! Basically the town of about 7000 people, if not the entire region, erupted in celebration. Will it be a re-peat this year?
The 2015 Kuskokwim 300 Champion: Pete Kaiser. An Alaska Native, Kaiser is Yupik and is from Bethel, Alaska.
The race starts Friday evening at 6:30 PM. Any race start is exciting, but K300 is always something special. Instead of a single start where each musher comes to the start line to take off — here they start two at a time: side-by-side in the shoot. It seems like the whole town turns up; there is food, music, even fire works once the teams are off!
The race is notorious for some wild conditions. It has happened that teams were swimming in water-on-top-of-layer-of-ice down the trail. Temperatures rain from for below to forty above in one and the same race. Rain, snow storm, high winds whipping, glare ice, bare tundra, you name it. This year… well, the locals are saying it this way: “It’s been worse”…
At the Musher Meeting on Thursday night, the trail conditions, that was probably the number one question to get some answers on for most all of the 25 mushers there. Besides from what start number they would end up getting to pick. In order of when they signed up, each musher gets to pick their own start number. Joar was pretty late in signing up for the race this year, but he did have a few spots to pick between; and he was super-happy that a low start number was still available. He will be starting with bib number 6! That will have him in the shoot next to good friend: Kristin Bacon and her team.
As for the trail conditions… They were wonderful, lots of snow, until about two weeks ago when Bethel and the Kuskokwim communities up the Kuskokwim River were drowned in rain. Followed by days of warm temperatures.
So, now this is the story:
It starts out with that the trail is overland: fast, slick, icy and pretty good from Bethel to the first checkpoint of Tuluksak and onwards to the second checkpoint in the community of Kalskag. That whole stretch is about 95 miles – some 150 km. Then the teams head out on the river for some super-slick, very fast trails on mostly glare ice to the community of Aniak. This stretch is about 35-40 miles / 55-65 km. From Aniak the trail follows the edge of the Whitefish Lake about 55 miles / 90 km in a loop back to Kalskag. Local musher Ritchie Diel, who is from Aniak, reported that this is all glare ice. From Kalskag the teams are then running back on the same route towards Bethel. But this time they must stop after about 45 miles / 65 km in the checkpoint of Tuluksak for a mandatory 4 hour rest period.
In the entire race, the mandatory rest time — how long each team must stop moving and be resting in checkpoints — is 10 hours. 6 of those hours must be taken in the checkpoints Kalskag (outbound), Aniak or Kalskag (inbound); and the last 4 hours are then in Tuluksak.
From Tuluksak, its a race to the finish line back in Bethel!