Leaders in the Kuskokwim 300 Dog Sled Race are well beyond its halfway point Saturday, a day after it began on a modified route.

A change in the race course due to open water on the Kuskokwim River means that for the first time in the K300’s 39-year history, Bethel serves not only as the race’s start and finish line but also as a halfway point. Mushers will be running to the full course’s Bogus Creek checkpoint and back twice.

The first musher into town Saturday was Bethel’s own Pete Kaiser, who pulled into town at 10:40 a.m. Saturday with all 12 dogs after what he described as a pretty typical 150-mile run on the river, with a lot of ice.

Kaiser says the ice can make for a fast race, but only if the dogs can get enough traction – and some spots on the trail offer long stretches of very slippery polished ice.

Race manager Maddy Reichard said organizers took several factors into account before changing its course for 2018.

“We could run it in the day, it would be safe; if there was no wind, it would be safe,” Reichard said. “There was a lot of factors and we decided it wasn’t worth the risk.”

One of the big names in the K300’s field of 18 mushers, four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion Jeff King, said the competition wasn’t slowed much by the change.

“They’re gonna find a trail somewhere,” King said. “If you are willing to bounce around on the tundra, the tundra is always here, and I expect this to just be fast, fast, fast.”

Race organizers expect the K300’s victor to return to Bethel on Sunday. Standings are being tracked on the race’s website.

Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.

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Unprecedented open water, warm weather causes K300 route change