Each year on the Kobuk 440, mushers and their dog teams travel through the village of Ambler twice: once on the way out, and once back in.
KNOM’s Zoe Grueskin was there for their first pass into the checkpoint.
The sun was just creeping over Bornite Mountain when Nicolas Petit rode into Ambler. The French musher was the first to reach the village this morning. Ambler is the third checkpoint in this year’s Kobuk 440 sled dog race, and it’s where mushers tend to take longer rests.
Petit took his time tending to his dogs, laying down straw and mixing up a pungent stew with water from the Ambler river, kept hot by local volunteers.
Petit: “Meat mixture, and then some kibble’s gonna go in there with some probiotics and some psyllium.”
ZG: “What was the last one?”
Petit: “Psyllium, like Metamucil. Gut help.”
Strong stomachs for sled dogs are a special concern in hot years, like this one. Meat can spoil quickly under the sun. Taking extra steps to prevent canine food poisoning is just one thing mushers are doing differently to adapt to the warmer weather.
Though he said before the race that he was looking to win, Petit was nonchalant about his outlook.
Petit: “Not really expecting any kind of outcome, so, just trying to do right by the dogs, and that’s usually ends up being the best thing you can do.”
ZG: “Did you do much swapping around of the dogs on your way up here?”
Petit: “No, I just loaded one up about five miles away.”
ZG: “What happened?”
Petit: “She was slowing down, wasn’t pretty to look at, so, she’s cuter in basket.”
ZG: “Are you gonna keep her, or is she staying here?”
Petit: “I don’t know yet.”
One musher who seemed to be having a hard time with the heat was Jessie Holmes. The 2017 Kobuk champion went out fast, but was spotted by other mushers camping and loading dogs onto his sled.
His handler, Clara Kneringer, arrived third into Ambler, after Petit and Tony Browning. This is her first sled dog race.
“I’m driving the B team, and normally, I should be way back there, and he should be here. The dogs and I, we both didn’t really want to pass him, so we were passing, stopping, passing, stopping, till I got a new leader in, and he took off then. But yeah, it was a little bit stressful to change plans. Especially for the dogs, because they were like, ‘He’s the boss. Why should we go with you up front? That’s not right!’”
By noon, a total of nine mushers had reached Ambler, including Holmes. Petit had already returned to the trail — with one less dog.
Image at top: file photo, Iditarod 2014: musher Nicolas Petit in the Cripple checkpoint. Photo: David Dodman, KNOM.