The inaugural running of the Northern Lights 300 was a resounding success, as musher after musher enthusiastically expressed their appreciation to the race committee for ‘a great trail, great checkpoints, great people… a great race!’
Leaving from Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel on January 27th, the new Iditarod and Yukon Quest qualifying race headed across the Susitna River and up the Iditarod Trail, through Yentna and Skwentna, to Finger Lake. Heavy snows had pounded the area during the weeks preceeding the race, and there was concern about getting a trail in before the start day, but the Northern Lights 300 trail team rose to the occasion. Led by Trail Boss Lou Schrader, the experienced and knowledgeable crew managed to have the trail in and groomed to the point it received raves from the mushers. Kudos to Lou Schrader, Harry Caldwell, Barry Munsell, Terry Langholtz and Tim Cornelius.
As teams gathered at Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel, Race Central received a report that second place Iditarod finisher Ramey Smyth, of Big Lake, had hit a moose with his dog truck en route to the race. Knik musher Ray Redington helped Ramey get his team to the start. Meanwhile, Willow mushers Karin Hendrickson and Varan Hoyt experienced technical difficulties with their dog trailer and arrived at the start via the gracious assistance of friends and neighbors in Willow.
With the Alaska Range forming a picturesque backdrop, the start saw 27 teams, which launched directly from their dog trucks, heading down a hill and across a small lake, providing excellent viewing for the spectators for nearly half a mile. What began as a spectacular sunny day however, dissolved into a brutally cold night on the trail. Temperatures were reported back to Race Central: 20 below, 30 below, 40 below, 50 below… and then a call from the trail sweeps, James Fee and Chris Hegener, at the Skwentna Crossing Safety Cabin: 60 degrees below zero.
Sheep Mountain Lodge co-owner Anjanette Steer led the field out of the first checkpoint at Yentna, closely followed by Ray Redington, Travis Beals, Nicolas Petit, and Kelly Maixner. Leaving Yentna, Redington started gaining on Steer, and by the time they reached the halfway point at Finger Lake he’d cut her lead time in half, to a mere six minutes. On the run back to Yentna Steer was able to pull away and gained seven minutes, and she finished in first place, reaching the finish line at Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel at 12:50 p.m., with 13 dogs in harness; 12 minutes ahead of Redington, who was running 10 dogs. Travis Beals came in third, an hour and seven minutes behind Steer. Nicolas Petit was fourth, Kelly Maixner fifth, Jim Lanier sixth, Mitch Seavey seventh, Mike Santos eighth, Mari Troshynski ninth, and Jason Mackey came in tenth. Complete race results can be seen at the Northern Lights 300 leaderboard.