It became quite clear that Denali musher Jeff King felt comfortable in the snow and trails of the Caribou Hills on Sunday.
He felt so comfortable there he not only won the 2001 Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race, he shattered his friend and fellow musher Paul Gebhardt's record in the process.
The Tustumena 200 crowned King for the second year as he crossed the finish line at 2:01 p.m., finishing the run in 22 hours and 1 minute Sunday, shattering Kasilof musher Gebhardt's previous record of 26 hours and 4 minutes. Lance Mackey of Kasilof came in fourth. Peter Bartlett of Willow was fifth.
"I wish the record holder had been someone that I didn't like so much," King said. "Paul is a great guy. I would rather break the record of someone that I didn't like as much as him. I am working on that."
The Denali musher attributed his incredibly fast time to the weather, the trail conditions and, of course, his team.
"Always first and foremost are the dogs," King said in a phone interview shortly after his finish. "I have a pretty awesome team that ran real well for me out there."
Rick Swenson of Two Rivers, the Iditarod's only five-time winner, came in second at 27 hours and 9 minutes. Tim Osmar of Kasilof was third, finishing in 28 hours and 34 minutes.
Though he captured the win and the record, King said he didn't have a perfect race.
"There was once or twice we ran into some slip-ups," he said. "I could see the trail markers and could tell we were going the wrong way, but I just couldn't get the dogs to stop. It wasn't for the lack of markers, it was just over-rambunctious dogs."
According to King, he had no trouble finding places to train near his Denali home, and that the effects of the weird winter that has been terrorizing peninsula mushers will probably be seen in the final finishing results.
"There were plenty of places to train where I live, and I have no quarrels about how well my team was trained up," King said. "The lack of snow might be why there is a big separation between my time and the times of the peninsula mushers."
With the win, King collected the $10,000 first-place purse as well as the record time of the Caribou Hills trails, something King put into question.
The T-200 race committee put a rule change into effect for this year's contest, adding a mandatory four-hour rest period for the mushers and their teams. When King crossed the line, the committee subtracted time from his overall finish and announced the new record.
"It's the same in every race that I have ever run -- the Kusko, even the Iditarod. If you break the record you have to break the overall time record no matter what the rest periods are or are not," King said.
"I think when they sit down and look over this that they will realize that they are going to have to do the same thing here."
Even in the face of stiff competition like the T-200 has to offer, King said he had plenty of time to enjoy the beauty and the splendor of his surroundings.
"I sure like the Kenai Penin-sula," he said. "I don't spend much time out here. There are some spectacular trails and some beautiful country. It is a beautiful place to live."
Beautiful and spectacular, would King ever consider becoming a peninsula resident?
"Probably not," he said. "Mostly because of my deep, settled roots in Denali. It is absolutely gorgeous here, though."
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