It was a close finish under a blaring sun on a warm afternoon, but Copper Basin 300 veteran Tom Jamgochian was eight minutes faster than Kuskokwim 300 finisher Rolland Trowbridge in this weekend’s Nome Council 200 race.
Four Nome Kennel Club mushers took off from the city’s snow dump around 10:00 a.m. Saturday, racing along the Iditarod trail until turning northeast to Council seven miles outside of White Mountain. Before the race’s start the Nome Kennel Club secured a Fairbanks veterinarian for the race, qualifying all finishers for the Iditarod.
Stephanie Johnson—who was still on the trail as of Monday morning—said at the start she was just looking to enjoy her first mid-distance run.
“I’m going to take it easy. This is my first race over 30 miles, so I’m a nervous wreck,” she said. “But I’m gonna just make it fun for the dogs and fun for me. I’m not here to race I’m here to run. It’s something I do for my own well-being and keeps me healthy and balances work and I love my dogs.”
Diana Haecker was the third across the finish Sunday. Training since August, she said it’s been difficult to get mileage on her team while racing in rural Alaska.
“It’s hard for rural mushers to get to races. And we all know that. That’s why we have to get local racers going here, so that local people have the ability to race, qualify, and keep the sport alive.” With a race that sets her up for the Iditarod, she’s optimistic about next season. “Maybe in the next year, we can do some longer racers outside of Nome.”
The four mushers rested after summiting the Topcock Hills Saturday before heading northeast to Council. Despite a few dogs getting loose and having to be chased back onto the line, the four competitors said it was a beautiful trail into the race’s only checkpoint just outside of Council. All four took the race’s mandatory 6-hour Council layover, and around 5 a.m. Sunday they hit the trail back to the coast.
On a straight 80-mile run from Council to the finish, Jamgochian led into Safety, with Trowbridge just a few miles behind, until Trowbridge surged ahead and led nearly to Nome.
“He passed me at Safety. I pulled a Zirkle,” Jamgochian laughed at the finish line. “I was resting at Safety, and I didn’t know where he was. And all of a sudden he appeared, like the second I sat down, and he passed me. I was behind him until three miles ago.”
Back on the trail, Jamgochian’s team moved faster but wasn’t able regain the lead, shying away from overtaking Trowbridge. Three miles out, Jamgochian’s team surged, taking the lead to be first at the finish. Minutes later Trowbridge came in to claim second. He said the infamous Solomon blowhole wasn’t the worst he’d seen, but it worked the dogs well, leading to two very tired dog teams at the finish.
“This last little bit between these two teams is more like two boxers in the ring where they’re both hugging each other, they can’t swing because they’re so tired,” Trowbridge said. “I should have just put my brake on and let him pass me and then sit behind him … because I dragged him probably ten miles, where he sat right behind me, and it just sucks the life out of your team. So lesson learned, I won’t do that again.”
Jamgochian’s first-place finish came with a total trail time of 29 hours and 27 minutes, earning him first place and bringing home a $1,000 prize.