Mushing through midday fog, Allen Moore of Two Rivers crossed the Glennallen finish line at 1:45 p.m. Monday to win the Copper Basin 300 for the third consecutive year and further cement his standing, with wife Aliy Zirkle, as the pre-eminent couple of Alaska distance mushing.
In addition to his Copper Basin streak, Moore, the winningest racer in Copper Basin history, owns back-to-back titles in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse. For her part, Zirkle has been the runner-up in the last three runnings of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and in 2000 became the first woman to win the Yukon Quest.
The only couple in the sport with a similar run of excellence is the late Susan Butcher, a four-time Iditarod winner, and husband David Monson, the 1988 Yukon Quest champion who also finished fifth in the 1982 Iditarod.
Pulling Moore and Zirkle to glory time after time is an unrelenting 8-year-old dog, Quito.
"She did awesome this time," Moore said of his champion lead dog. "Words can't describe her. She's been in lead for pretty much every race I've been on and Aliy's been on.
"The sad thing is this might be her last year. There's nobody else 9 years old in the main team."
Ray Redington Jr., a top-10 finisher in the last four Iditarods, finished second, a mere two minutes behind. Young Ryne Olson was third, 27 minutes behind Moore.
Like much of Alaska, the race route through Meiers Lake to Sourdough, Mendeltna Creek and back to Glennallen faced unseasonably warm temperatures in the teens and 20s. Just three years ago, the same race was called off for safety reasons as brutally cold temperatures of nearly minus 60 gripped the region.
"It's been amazingly warm," said Meg Jensen, the Copper Basin spokeswoman. "Not much snow to speak of, either. This is the warmest weather we've ever had for the race."
Moore, who's run the Copper Basin 13 times, winning six of those races, has seen all manner of weather and race conditions.
"That's what I like about it so much," he said. "It's so different every year. You might see it snowing 2 feet in an hour. There might be water to cross. It can be 50 below and 30 above. If it was up to me, every person would have to run that run before running 1,000 miles (in races like the Quest and Iditarod)."
Moore led the way out of the penultimate checkpoint of Mendeltna at 6:08 a.m. behind 11 dogs. He rested just two hours at the checkpoint, significantly less than many top racers, including Redington, who stopped for four hours and departed 36 minutes after Moore. Six of the first seven racers to reach Mendaltna stayed for at least four hours.
"I was trying to rest early," Moore said. "That's where all the mountains are. So I was trying to do more rest there."
It was a veteran move that paid off, and Moore realizes that the more winning and contending that he, Zirkle and Quito do, the more attention they'll attract.
"Well, yeah, people are going to be looking at us to set the standard," he said, "but that doesn't bother me."
Copper Basin 300
Top 10 finishers
1) Allen Moore, Two Rivers, 1:45 p.m.; 2) Ray Redington Jr., Knik, 1:47 p.m.; 3) Ryne Olson, Two Rivers, 2:12 p.m.; 4) Nicolas Petit, Girdwood, 2:14 p.m.; 5) Benjamin Harper, Wasilla, 2:32 p.m.; 6) Aliy Zirkle, Two Rivers, 2:49 p.m.; 7) Matt Hall, Eagle, 3:48 p.m.; 8) Sebastian Schnuelle, Whitehorse, 4:27 p.m.; 9) Paige Drobny, Fairbanks, 4:55 p.m.; 10) Cody Strathe, Fairbanks, 5:11 p.m.
Contact Mike Campbell at mcampbell(at)adn.com