Ellen King was the fourth musher to reach Ambler in this year’s Kobuk 440 sled dog race. Born and raised in Denali, she’s been riding dog sleds since she could stand. That’s hardly surprising, given her father is four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King.
Both Kings were at the checkpoint Friday morning. The elder King isn’t competing this year, but he’s been following his daughter on snowmachine. Fresh off the sled, Ellen was in high spirits as she got her dogs settled in the snow.
“It was great. When we took off out of Selawik, everybody was screaming, and I was trying to warm them up because they had just been resting, and they were barking at each other and yelling to go. It was kind of like, ‘oh my gosh, we are stuck here, just cruising at this low speed.’ And then all of a sudden, fireworks started shooting out of everybody’s rear ends, and it’s like they grabbed third gear and just cruised for the last 30 miles.”
The younger King would take no credit for the good run. She said she hadn’t done anything special to pump up the dogs.
“I have learned sometimes that it’s best to just shut your pie hole. Every once in a while they need to just warm themselves up, get themselves in the mind frame. I was encouraging, little encouragements here and there, ‘good dogs,’ but wasn’t hootin’ and hollerin’ because I didn’t want to have some kind of fake energy, so they found it all on their own, and we just hauled.”
King’s father Jeff was there to greet her at the chute and stood close by as she began her checkpoint routine, but soon, he returned inside the community center to eat fish and stews prepared by local volunteers, catch up with his friends — and give his daughter space.
“I walked in here because I had to get out of her face. It’s tough if there’s things you want to help them with. But she doesn’t need any help in this one, and I enjoy watching it. I would have died if I had to stay home and not at least come along the trail.”
Ellen, who was sporting one of Jeff’s old snowsuits, embroidered with his name, says most of the time, she enjoys having her dad at her side.
Ellen King: “Well it’s definitely very easy for it to be too much pressure. He has very big shoes to fill, but we have a really great relationship. He’s very encouraging of me doing my own thing, and running the race how I feel like is best. It’s been really great. I love having him around. He’s a great coach.”
Jeff King: “She’s incredibly capable, and, you know, 26-year-old woman, and yet I still think of her like my little kid, and she is, but she’s clearly a very capable little kid.”
One day, Jeff says, he and his daughter hope to run together in the 1,000 mile Iditarod sled dog race.
Image at top: file photo: Jeff King at the 2016 Iditarod Ceremonial Start in Anchorage. Photo: Patrick Yack, Alaska Public Media.