Heading into the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race, John Baker had one basic desire for his young dog team. He wanted them to see as many different weather and trail conditions as possible. By all accounts, they got just that … and more.
Baker's young team of dogs completed the 300-mile race up the Kuskokwim River and finished in 12th place overall despite a trail that was, at times, windy and warm.
"The dogs got to see a lot," said the Kotzebue musher. "It was the first time I have finished the race with the dogs in as good of shape as they were. I always want to win, but it was important for the dogs to see those things. I feel good about how they did."
Baker completed the K-300 in 45 hours, 16 minutes and 53 seconds, just over 4 and-a-half hours behind winner Jeff King.
The early portion of the race from the starting line in Bethel to the race's midway point at Whitefish lake near Aniak was especially important for Baker's team. The wind blew hard early in the race, causing near white-out conditions on the trail at some points.
"It was a windy trail, as it normally is, so the dogs got to see what that is like," said Baker. "I feel like it was good for them."
The second half of the race turned into an endurance march for the team. Temperatures on the trail during the final day of the race reached the mid-30s, forcing the team to deal with unexpectedly warm conditions.
"I feel good about the race and how the team did," said Baker, noting that six or seven dogs from his Kusko 300 team will likely be part of the team he fields in the Iditarod in March.
As for King, Baker said his winning team appears strong in the brief time he saw them.
"I didn't get to see them too much," he said.
Nenana's Tony Browning, running a team of dogs that belong to former Nome musher Aaron Burmeister, finished second in the final standings.
Bethel's Pete Kaiser placed third, while Iditarod veterans Mike Williams Jr. and his father, Iditarod legend Mike Williams Sr., finished 15th and 18th, respectively.
Kotzebue's Katherine Keith was 11th overall. She raced a team of Baker's dogs.