Pete Kaiser wins K300 for 5th time
Pete Kaiser of Bethel reclaimed the Kuskokwim 300 Championship title last weekend when he beat 2019 champion Matt Failor by 47 minutes to the finish line on Sunday morning. Kaiser finished the 300-mile course from Bethel to Aniak and back with nine dogs in harness, in an elapsed time of 38 hours, 16 minutes and 44 seconds. Matt Failor, last year’s K300 winner, of Willow, came in second, Aniak’s Richie Diehl third, Jeff King fourth and 2018 Iditarod champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom rounded out the top 5. The field of 21 mushers was star-studded and included champions of long distance dog races such as Lance Mackey and accomplished mushers with multiple 1,000-mile races under their belt such as Nome-grown Aaron Burmeister, Wade Marrs, Aaron Peck, Nic Petit, Paige Drobny, Jim Lanier and Matt Hall. Organizers credit the perfect weather and trail conditions as one reason for no scratches this year. Race manager Paul Basile added that the fact that nobody scratched speaks of the excellence in dog care and proficiency of the mushers.
Bethel rolls out the red carpet each year when mushers descend on the town of about 6,000 at the Kuskokwim River. Host families take in mushers, their 12 dogs and messy gear. Events center on the dog races that see a huge volunteer force come out and work together to make the K300 week a celebration of dog mushing for the entire region.
The K300 organization prides itself in offering a sizable purse for three races: The 300-mile K300, the 150-mile long Bogus Creek and the Akiak Dash. K300 race founder Myron Angstman said that the purse for the K300 was $160,000. The race pays 25 spots and when there are more finishers than spots, the left-over money is divided and paid out as a bonus on top of the prize money.
For the Bogus Creek 150, for example, only seven mushers signed up, ran and finished. Matt Scott of Bethel won that one, taking home a $12,000 paycheck including a $3,100 bonus from the left over purse. Even the last place finisher went home with nearly $8,000.
This in turn assures a vibrant mushing scene on the Kuskokwim.
Several things were noteworthy of this year’s race. The K300 is notorious for challenging trail conditions that can range from miles of overflow to glare ice conditions for hundreds of miles on end, to brutal cold and strong winds, or above freezing temperatures. However, the Gods smiled on this year’s race.
Aaron Burmeister said in a phone interview with the Nome Nugget that in all the K300 races he has personally run or has been to, this year’s K300 offered perfect trail and perfect weather. “These were the best conditions I’ve ever seen here,” he said. “There was fresh snow on the entire river and the weather was perfect for racing, between zero and minus 15°F with very little wind.” Burmeister and his kennel partner Tony Browning both ran the race, with teams consisting of veterans and young 3-year-olds that have not been to a long race yet.
The racers all finished on Sunday, with the first racer coming in before dawn, and four-time Quest and Iditarod Champion Lance Mackey bringing up the rear and finishing at 10:33 p.m.
Runner-up Matt Failor of Willow used the occasion to propose to his girlfriend, Liz Raines at the finish line and produced an engagement ring that he had carried with him on the entire 300-mile trail.
Another noteworthy aspect of this year’s K300 was that Pete Kaiser’s father Ron stepped on the runners again and competed in the Bogus Creek 150, which he finished in second place.
For complete results and runtimes go to www.k300.org