A King’s march to the mighty Yukon River

Denali musher Jeff King at the 2016 Iditarod ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday, March 5. (Photo by Patrick Yack/Alaska Public Media)
Denali musher Jeff King at the 2016 Iditarod ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday, March 5. (Photo by Patrick Yack/Alaska Public Media)

The first dog team in this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has reached the midway point of of Ruby on the Yukon River, 495 miles along the Iditarod trail. Jeff King’s team was not only the first team to arrive, but is the only team to travel this far without taking 24 hours rest.

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When Jeff King’s dog team pulled into Ruby, they were alert, tails wagging–in other words, they looked good and that’s what he told the veterinarian.

“They really look perfect. They are eating and drinking and happy,” said King.

King set to work feeding and bedding down his dogs. He’ll take his 24-hour rest in Ruby. It’s the same race schedule he ran in 2014, when he nearly claimed victory. He says bad weather forced him to scratch at the last checkpoint along the trail that year. But King believes winning and losing has nothing to do with mandatory rest.

Jeff King was the first musher to the Yukon, wins a five course meal, and starts his 24 hour rest. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes / KSKA.)
Jeff King was the first musher to the Yukon, wins a five course meal, and starts his 24 hour rest. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes / KSKA.)

“I don’t think the outcome of the Iditarod would have changed much in the entire history regardless of where the winner took their 24,” said King. “That is not a deciding factor.”

Jeff King is the first musher to Ruby. (Graphic by Ben Matheson / Alaska Public Media.)
Jeff King is the first musher to Ruby. (Graphic by Ben Matheson / Alaska Public Media.)

What is a deciding factor, according to King, is how mushers drive their teams early on.

“You don’t absolve sins [committed] before the 24 hour break, by taking a 24 hour break…there are teams that went rushing to McGrath or Takotna that will have impacted negatively their team and the 24 ain’t gonna fix it,” said King.

Jeff King shakes hands with Emmitt Peters, of Ruby, who won the 1975 Iditarod. King was the first to the Yukon town. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes / KSKA.)
Jeff King shakes hands with Emmitt Peters, of Ruby, who won the 1975 Iditarod. King was the first to the Yukon town. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes / KSKA.)

From Ruby, dog teams drop on to the Yukon River. As they do, mushers will find out how rested they really are. There are more than 130 river miles ahead, with nine extra overland miles where open water forced a reroute between Galena and Nulato. Mushers are required to take another eight hour rest before they leave the river at Kaltag.