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2016 Kobuk 440, and Mushing Season, End in Petit Victory

Nicolas Petit, en route to Kotzebue

The first few teams crossed the finish line of the Kobuk 440 sled dog race in the early morning hours Sunday.

When Nicolas Petit crossed the finish line in first place in this year’s Kobuk 440, there were few spectators, and very little fanfare, but the Girdwood musher didn’t seem to mind. He says he definitely plans to return to the race.

“It’s really nice country and really nice people everywhere.”

Petit’s young dog team led the way for nearly the entire 440 mile route between Kotzebue and Kobuk and back. This is the last major race of the season. Petit says he’s ready for a break.

“If we did it all year around, we’d never get to miss it.”

Petit’s team got off the main trail on his way into Kotzebue.

“I don’t know if the trail markers are staying up or something. There should have been markers… don’t know which way I’m going, but over where there are permanent markers and that’s all you see. But I had to go break a trail to make it over here.”

But race officials decided his detour resulted in no major change in distance or the outcome of the race.

More than two hours later, Noah Burmeister drove his dog team across the finish line in second place, despite a turn in the weather.

ES: “Yeah, the weather took a turn, huh?”
NB: “Yeah, it’s been a little blizzard and stormy and raining and everything else, but it’s been fun.”
ES: “It would not be a sled dog race without it.”
NB: “That’s right, and naturally, it’s going to start raining, because I sent my rain gear home when I was in Kiana.”

Blowing snow, rain, and winds didn’t keep Burmeister from making a push for the finish line. Somewhere between Noorvik and Kotzebue, he caught and passed Jason Mackey.

“I drafted him for a while and pulled a little closer to where his dogs were… balled up and I passed him.”

Minutes later, Mackey pulled into Kotzebue with a wide smile.

“My intentions were to come over here and do as well as I could, and top three is definitely satisfactory. That’s definitely my biggest, best finish in any big race, so it’s pretty special, for sure.”

Mackey says he’s determined to return to the Kobuk 440.

“It is beautiful, it is absolutely heaven.”

Two small females led his team for the whole race.

“Ancha and Siri. That’s all I have for leaders. They have not done one training run or race out of lead all year. They get hooked up in lead, come home in lead. They are the leaders.”

And they helped keep the rest of the competition at bay.

When she pulled into Kotzebue, Katherine Keith said she had been working hard to catch the frontrunners, but she was also kicking and running to stay ahead of the team behind her.

“I wasn’t sure who that was. I wasn’t sure if it was John or Sebastien, so I was really working hard, but either way, John or Sebastien, I was going to get here first.”

Keith only had a few minutes to drive her team up off the ice and into the dog yard at her house before her partner John Baker came across the line. When he arrived, he sat down on his sled, a little winded from his final run.

JB: “I tried to catch you.”
KK: “I was really running away from you. See how sweaty I am? I was running up every hill.”
JB: “I could see the foot tracks.”
KK: “I was like, ‘he’s going to get me.’”

Without any fans or sponsors to thank at the finish line, mushers simply pulled away with their dog teams, to enjoy a well-deserved long rest and reflect on their 2016 racing season.