Alaska’s mushing season is coming to an in depth. The final main race kicked off in Kotzebue this afternoon.
Braving heavy winds and below-zero temperatures, a dozen mushers embarked throughout the ocean ice for his or her probability at claiming victory on this 12 months’s Kobuk 440 Sled Canine Race.
The sound of barking canine crammed the chilly air on the Kotzebue Sound sea ice as 12 mushing groups ready to embark on the Kobuk 440.
It was six levels beneath zero, however the heavy winds make it really feel extra like 34 beneath. A white fog blanketed the groups.
The 2021 race comes a 12 months after COVID-19 compelled the cancellation of the 2020 occasion. Veteran musher Hugh Neff from Fairbanks has run the race for years, and says he’s excited to get again on the path after lacking out final 12 months.
“For us, it’s one of the best a part of Alaska,” Neff mentioned. “Yearly, everyone gears up for Iditarod of the Yukon Quest, which my spouse is in control of. However at coronary heart, we reside for this race. There’s simply one thing… our complete 12 months is equipped in the direction of coming to Kotzebue.”
However coming as much as Kotzebue proved to be a bit more durable this time round for the mushers. The winter storm delayed most of them by a day. The race itself is beginning a day late.
Longtime musher and Iditarod favourite Jeff King was the final musher to reach. His canine bought there earlier than he did and he thanked different mushers for watching them.
“As you may think it’s very nerve-wracking to have your canine this far-off and never have folks acquainted with them particularly,” King mentioned.
The Kobuk 440 is thought for internet hosting a combined bag of rivals, from locals like Kevin Hansen and Dempsey Woods to Iditarod favorites like Jeff King and Nic Petit. For a number of of the groups that is their first mid-distance race ever. Ryan Redington of Knik, the winner of the 2019 Kobuk 440, says he’s anticipating the competitors to be fierce.
“There’s some actually superior canine groups right here, so I believe it’s going to be fairly the competitors for the highest mushers, high rankings right here,” Redington mentioned.
Kevin Hansen, born and raised in Kotzebue, says he’s hopeful that his information of the area will give him a little bit of a leg up on the opposite mushers. However Hansen doesn’t do mushing full-time; he works as a bodily therapist. He says having to stability his job with a really intensive interest could be a problem.
“So it’s a interest that we attempt to kick into gear for these races,” Hansen mentioned. “However we undoubtedly don’t have the sponsorship and stuff of all of those different mushers. So it’s a bonus of understanding the nation extra and the path situations can work in our favor. However so far as placing collectively an expert group, it’s a bit tougher for us, and it’s not our primary focus.”
Dempsey Woods has been elevating canine since he was a child rising up in Shungnak. He doesn’t have the sponsorships of a number of the different mushers, however Woods says he’s bought his neighbors.
“It’s a problem, however with this neighborhood of Kotzebue, I’ve bought just about all the assistance I want,” Woods mentioned.
Mushers will make their manner from Kotzebue to the village of Noorvik, transferring alongside to Kiana after which Ambler. Mushers will then hit Shungnak and Kobuk, earlier than looping again by means of Ambler and heading right down to Selawik. From there, they’ll hit Noorvik yet another time earlier than ending in Kotzebue.
Winners are anticipated to cross the end line early Monday morning.