Mush! After a long trek across some of the wildest terrain Alaska has to offer, Pete Kaiser captured the crowning glory in sled dog racing on Wednesday. He crossed the finish line of the Iditarod after beating back defending champion, Joar Ulsom of Norway.
In his 10th try, Kaiser became the fifth Alaska Native and first Yupik musher to win the world’s most famous sled dog race. He took 9 days, 12 hours, 39 minutes and 6 seconds to complete the 1,000-mile journey over two mountain ranges, along the frozen Yukon River, and across the wind-swept Bering Sea coast.
Veteran Iditarod musher Mike Williams Sr. says Kaiser’s victory lifts up not only the Yupik people but all southwest Alaska. “It’s going to make 35,000 people proud,” Williams says.
A large group of residents from Bethel, Kaiser’s hometown, flew in to see his victory. Alaska Native dancers and drummers performed near the finish line as they waited for Kaiser to arrive, even though it was past 3 a.m. Kaiser called the support “extremely humbling, and it motivates me every day to perform to my best.”
This year’s race was marked by the collapse of Frenchman Nicolas Petit, who was seemingly headed for victory as of Monday. He had a five-hour lead until his dog team stopped running. Petit says one dog was picking on another during a rest break, and then the entire team refused to run. Fifty-two mushers began this year’s race. Petit was among 10 who withdrew.
The Iditarod is often criticized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Officials call it a test—”not of human endurance but of a dog’s ability to survive extreme cruelty.”
What do you think of events that force animals to perform difficult feats?
(Peter Kaiser poses with his lead dogs, Morrow, left, and Lucy on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Nome, Alaska, after winning the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News via AP)