Bethel is gearing up for a big sled dog racing weekend as top-tier mushers from around the state arrive to compete in the Kuskowkim 300. Each year, the K300 Race Committee puts on its three big races during one big weekend, including its signature K300 race, the Bogus Creek 150, and the Akiak Dash.
Meanwhile, a familiar face will be headed out on the trail: Ron Kaiser, the father of reigning Iditarod Champion Pete Kaiser.
A year ago, Ron and Janet Kaiser sat in their kitchen, recalling four decades of sled dog racing. Pete Kaiser, their son, was eying a possible fifth consecutive K300 win at the time, but had yet to win his first Iditarod. At that time, Ron was a little impatient for a victory.
“And you know, it’s been a while. It’s been 10 Iditarods coming up, and I’m ready any time if he wants to do it,” Ron said in 2019.
Pete didn’t get his fifth K300 trophy, but he did get his first Iditarod victory come March.
In some ways, nothing has changed. Father and son are out on the tundra training sled dogs for the races that have defined so much of their lives. Pete’s handler for the past three years returned to his homeland in Norway, so it was Ron who volunteered to help out.
“I wanted him to be as strong as with his team in defending his champion, and you know, maybe he could pull off another Kusko victory too would be great,” Ron said.
This year, Ron is running the Bogus Creek 150. It’s a faster race than the signature Kuskokwim 300, which Ron has also raced before. For the Bogus, sled dog teams typically run between 12 and 13 miles an hour instead of the mellower 10-mile-per-hour pace for longer distances. Ron is also getting used to being back on a sled. Most of his training this year has been behind a snowmachine, but the last couple of practice runs were on a sled.
“I was a little sore the first time, the second time not too bad. So yeah, I’m ready to go,” Ron said.
Helping him out is long-time friend Rick Hanson. The last time Ron raced the Bogus was in 2015, the same year that Pete won his first Kuskokwim 300. Ron placed third in the Bogus that year. So far, the biggest challenge has been getting used to Pete’s dogs.
“A lot of them look alike, for one thing. I know his dogs that he’s had a long time, but I’m learning their names,” Ron said.
He said that Pete has trained them so well that they will respond to a different driver on the sled. Even though Ron is running the Bogus to help Pete train his dogs, he says not to count him out.
“Would I love to win the Bogus? I would love to win the Bogus if I can,” Ron said.
But his primary goal is to keep Pete’s dogs in shape and ready for his 12th Iditarod run, and hopefully his second Iditarod championship.
The Kuskokwim 300 and Bogus 150 races will start on Friday, January 17. The Akiak Dash’s mass start is scheduled to start on January 18.