Kasilof musher Paul Gebhardt won the Kuskokwim 300 on Sunday by one minute over Mike Williams Jr. of Akiak.
In wind-chill temperatures that reached minus 70 degrees, Gebhardt crossed the finish line at 39 hours, 17 minutes and 20 seconds for his first Kuskokwim 300 title.
Gebhardt is a perennial challenger in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. He finished second in that race in 2000 and 2007.
His first major title in a 300-miler since the Copper Basin 300 in 2000 shows he is ready to once again challenge for the Iditarod title this year.
"I am totally jazzed about the Iditarod," Gebhardt told radio station KYUK just minutes after crossing the finish line.
The musher said in the interview that extreme cold has given him trouble in recent years, but he was ready.
He said he had his mitts stuffed with hand warmers and also used goggles to protect his eyes.
"The weather is just like the Kusko," Gebhardt said. "It throws something different at you every time you turn around."
Williams Jr. closed fast on Gebhardt at the end of the race, but ran out of trail. At Tuluksak, which is about 50 miles from the finish, Gebhardt had a 24-minute lead. Just 12 miles from the finish, in Kwethluk, Williams Jr. shrunk the lead to six minutes.
In addition to younger mushers like Williams Jr., Gebhardt also beat out Iditarod champions for the victory. Martin Buser took fourth, while Sterling's Mitch Seavey grabbed sixth.
Also from the Kenai Peninsula, Kasilof's Bruce Linton was running in 19th and last place as of Sunday evening.
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