The sled dogs pulled Mitch Seavey to the finish line and the veteran musher smiled. He appeared comfortable wearing a lightweight jacket. A blotch of frost covered the left side of his mustache.
It was Seavey’s first win at the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race. The win caught him off guard, he said.
“I went out for a training run and came back first,” he said.
This year’s T200 came together despite a winter lacking in snowfall and abundant in warm temperatures. Workers busily packed the trail snow the week before the race to prevent it from melting; concerned mushers wondered about the snow conditions as the start date approached.
But, the race began as planned. At 11 a.m. Saturday, a total of 35 mushers gathered at Mile 112 of the Sterling Highway in Kasilof. Many mushers competing in the T200 either have competed in, or will be racing in, this year’s Iditarod.
The roughly 200-mile race took mushers from Kasilof to Homer and back and this year offered a $25,000 purse spilt among the top ten finishers. Seavey received $7,000 of that pot, which he will use to buy more dog food, he said.
Last year’s T200 purse dipped down to $10,000; organizers feared the race would be cancelled at one point but the contest recovered through several fundraising events.
Seavey finished at 5:25 p.m. Sunday with a total race time of 30 hours and seven minutes — nearly 20 minutes before the second place musher Ray Redington. Four-time Iditarod winner Jeff King finished third.
Seavey entered the race with a lax attitude, he said. The Sterling resident simply was “cruising around and training my dogs.”
“And all of the sudden, I was in first place,” he said. Seavey didn’t realize he’d taken first until the race officials adjusted the layover times at Freddie’s Roadhouse, the last checkpoint. “Then, I had a dilemma. I actually had to race.”
As opposed to the sled dog teams from northern Alaska, Seavey’s team was acclimated to the warm weather. The slow pace of the race suited his style. The northerners couldn’t travel their normal, speedy paces, he said.
The dogs worked hard to ascend the hills located throughout the race, and the above-freezing temperatures were tough on the team. But other than the above issues, Seavey experienced a flawless race, he said. He kept the same pace throughout most of the trail, speeding up slightly during the last 20 miles. He felt there might have been mushers racing behind him and worried he’d end up a casualty, he said.
Seavey will travel to Cantwell for the Denali Doubles Sled Dog Race before competing in the Iditarod. Seavey’s son, Conway, won this year’s T100 earlier in the day.
Redington rode most of the T200 without gloves, he said. He is also used to training in the warmer climate of Knik.
“It was a real good race. I had a lot of fun,” he said.
During the last half-mile of the race, he sped up after realizing King was on his heals. He said he was happy with the results.
King, like the race’s top two finishers, experienced little to no problems while racing. On Saturday, he granted his dogs some relief from the warm weather by starting out slow. After the sun set, the team picked up the pace, he said.
“Overall, it was a very clean run, which is one of the reasons I did so well,” King said. “Nobody can get in the top three without it being a pretty clean run.”
King was in sixth place upon leaving the last checkpoint. After gauging his competitors’ speeds — he did so using the tracks in the snow, as he can use the markings to determine if they’re traveling fast or being cautious, he said — he believed he could overtake at least two mushers. He ended up passing three.
King has won the T200 several times and placed second in the race last year. Cim Symth won last year’s race, but did not compete this year.
It will be the 30th Tustumena 200 next year, and the local staple is comfortably positioned to continue, said Tami Murray, T200 president and race director. Apache helped raise about $40,000 for the race. The remaining money will be used for next year’s race.
The top ten winners in descending order were Seavey, Redington, King, Paul Gebhardt, Wade Marrs, Ken Anderson, Ellen Donoghue, Travis Beals, Kristy Berington, Robert Bundtzen and Roger Johnson.
*Editors Note: This story has been amended to reflect the race winners.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at email@example.com.