Richie Diehl won the 2021 Bogus Creek 150 Sled Dog Race on Jan. 31.
Diehl crossed the Bethel finish line in the early morning darkness to the cheers of a small crowd. He planted his snow hook, leapt off the sled, and vigorously rubbed each one of his dogs.
“I never thought that I had the speed that we did today. I knew they were good, but not that fast. And they did well,” Diehl said.
The Aniak musher completed the race at 4:58 a.m. with a total elapsed time of 16 hours and 38 minutes. Diehl crossed the finish line with all 10 of the dogs he started with. Throughout the race, Diehl’s dog team averaged a breakneck pace of 10.9 miles per hour, according to his race-issued GPS tracker.
“It was a beautiful thing to watch for 150 miles,” Diehl said, referring to his team’s pace.
The team’s speed wasn’t the only surprise.
“I didn’t think I would win it,” Diehl said. “And I can tell you that because there’s a lot of good teams, and these guys that race the Bogus, they’re good at it.”
Diehl hasn’t raced the Bogus, a 75-mile loop over frozen river and tundra, in over a decade. Instead, he’s competed in longer races: He’s a top 10 finisher of the 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and has raced every Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race over the past decade, finishing as high as third twice.
After his long history, Diehl’s Bogus Creek 150 win feels like a long time coming. K300 Race Manager Paul Basile handed Diehl his trophy: A beautiful grass wall hanging hand woven by Kelly Lincoln.
Fifteen minutes after Diehl’s finish, Bethel musher Ron Kaiser arrived in second place at 5:13 a.m.
“Yeah! I beat Pete Kaiser!” Kaiser said.
He beat him by three minutes. Ron’s son, Pete Kaiser, arrived at 5:16 a.m. The younger Kaiser is a five-time Kuskokwim 300 winner and the 2019 Iditarod Champion. Father and son stayed close throughout the race, within about a half-mile of each other, until Ron, the father, took the lead at the end. He said they were racing to win.
“But to race each other — not necessarily. He gave me the A-team. He gave me a little faster bunch,” Ron said.
Pete said he gave his dad the better team so he had a better chance at winning, to express gratitude for his father’s support throughout his racing career, and for all the training runs his dad had taken the dogs on. But even with a less experienced team, Pete was able to keep up.
“It was fun. It was really enjoyable. We rarely get this much snow and this nice of weather. We had the full moon and stars last night. It was textbook mushing,” the younger Kaiser said.
Pete Kaiser, like Diehl, hasn’t run the Bogus in many years, choosing instead to enter longer races with bigger purses like the Kuskokwim 300. The Bogus Creek 150, Kuskokwim 300, and the shorter 65-mile Akiak Dash usually fall on the same weekend. This year, organizers separated the races to reduce crowding during the pandemic, allowing mushers to enter multiple races.
The Bogus Creek roster was almost twice its usual size. Five previous champions competed, along with six rookies who’d never raced 150 miles before.
“I’m glad a lot of rookies are racing,” Fr. Alexander Larson of Napaskiak said after finishing fourth in the 2021 Bogus. He’s one of the race’s veterans and a former champion. The surge of new mushers indicates that the sport is growing in the region.
To keep it growing, Fr. Larson is glad organizers held the race despite the pandemic, and did it with safety precautions. The prize money is essential for mushers to feed their teams. As an example of keeping mushing alive for the next generation, Fr. Larson pointed to a little boy leading his team from the finish line to his truck.
“He’s my dog handler,” he said, chuckling happily at his 9-year-old grandson.