Rural mushers start gearing up for state's premier races
The sport of sled dog racing is about to slide into its most important part of the season, the running of its equivalent to the Super bowl and NCAA championship game — the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and the Kuskokwim 300.
At least seven rural Alaskan mushers are planning to take their best shots at the Iditarod and Kuskokwim titles this season.
First up for the state's mushers will be the grueling Kuskokwim 300 race. The race, which entails a 300-mile race from Bethel to Aniak and back, is scheduled to get under way on Jan. 17.
A total of 28 mushers from throughout the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, and other parts of the state, will be competing in the state's top mid-distance race. Among the mushers set to participate are Aniak's Richie Diehl, Bethel's Pete Kaiser, Akiak's Mike Williams Jr., and Teller's Joe Garnie.
Diehl, Kaiser and Williams are all potential Iditarod challengers. Garnie, a Teller native, starred in the Iditarod early in his career. He finished second in the event in 1986, and placed third in 1984.
Diehl, Kaiser and Williams will join Kotzebue standout John Baker on the Iditarod Trail on March 1 when the 1,100-mile race begins with a ceremonial start in Anchorage.
Baker has been one of the Iditarod's top mushers over the last 15 years. In that span, he has placed in the top 10 a total of 12 times, including first in 2011. He finished third in 2002 and 2009.
Baker won't be the only western Alaskan musher on the trail. He will be joining by Katherine Keith of Kotzebue and Aaron Burmeister of Nome.
Another musher with deep western Alaska ties set to take to the Iditarod Trail is Dee Dee Jonrowe. As a young musher, Jonrowe lives in the Bethel and competed on the Bethel Sprint Mushers' circuit.
As of Dec. 31, no mushers from the Bristol Bay region had entered the Iditarod or Kuskokwim 300 races.