Bethel's Peter Kaiser wins the 2019 Iditarod
Peter Kaiser, the 31-year-old born and raised in Bethel, claimed his first Iditarod victory by outrunning defending champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom.
"It feels good to get here," Kaiser said. "Just the trail itself, it's such a long trail, but to come out on top is something extra special and to see this huge crowd here and so many family and friends from back home, it's really neat."
Kaiser made the winner's march up Front Street through cheers and applause arriving at the burled arch Wednesday at 3:39 a.m. with eight dogs. He finished the race in 9 days, 12 hours and 39 minutes.
Joar Leifseth Ulsom came in a close second, finishing the race at 3:51 a.m., just 12 minutes later. He said while he was out on the trail, he was just having fun.
"Pete did an awesome job and I'm super proud of him," Ulsom said. "He had a fantastic dog team and he did a lot of things, all the right things."
This year nearly all mushers began with 14, a new rule implemented in the off-season. (Jeff Deeter and Jeremy Keller started the race with 13 dogs in harness.)
Kaiser had steady runs through Shaktoolik, Koyuk and Elim. He stayed in Elim for 44 minutes leaving at 12:41 a.m. Next up was the 48-mile trip to White Mountain which took under seven-and-a half hours as he averaged 6.22 miles. Ulsom, giving chase made it there 41 minutes later with an average speed at 5.75 mph.
From there it was an eight-hour rest, a departure for Safety and the run to Nome.
Both Kaiser and Ulsom are quiet, reserved and respected mushers who let their racing ability and teams do their speaking.
Kaiser, like the musher he'd been dueling, had been trending in this victory direction. This Iditarod is his 10th and outside of his first in 2010 when he placed 28th, he's never been out of the top 15. He had already earned three top-five finishes.
The trajectory of success is comparable with Ulsom who won last year in his sixth try, never finishing lower than seventh place.
After Kaiser's win, his mother Janet said she was feeling a "surge of happiness."
"He's a hard worker and we've watched him work really hard and get, you know, better at it," she said. "He started out not knowing much and then he said he wanted to be a student of mushing, racing, he wanted to learn everything he could about the sport, but not just the sport, about taking care of the dogs, and it really motivated him, you know, it pushed him to learn. He was so excited about the learning and as a parent that made me feel so happy and proud."
Already a winner of four straight Kuskokwim 300 races in his hometown, he's no stranger to success. Born and raised in Alaska, his victory will likely be a very popular one around the state and, of course, in Bethel.
"It just feels like, you know, 'lotta hard work and it's been justified," Kaiser said. "I don't really know all the feelings yet. It's probably gonna sink in over the next few days, few weeks, but it sure feels good and it's just an awesome feeling to see all these people here. That's the real special part."
Dave Goldman contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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COMPLETE COVERAGE OF THE 2019 IDITAROD: