WILLOW — The 2018 running of the Joe Redington, Sr. Knik 200 began on Saturday morning at Deshka Landing in Willow. In temperatures hovering around zero, twenty-eight mushers were poised to set off on their first race of the season.
According to Robert Sexton, race manager for the Knik 200, the race began in Willow as opposed to Knik due to poor trail conditions due to last month’s warm temperatures. Sexton said, “Down in the Knik area, they were still on four-wheelers until about three weeks ago.”
While much of Southcentral saw significant snowfall last week, including Knik, Sexton says the decision had already been made to run from Deshka Landing.
Race Judge DeeDee Jonrowe approved of the race committee’s decision to move the race for safety reasons. Jonrowe is a well-known advocate for dog safety and care, and has won multiple awards for her treatment of dogs during her career. She believes races like the Knik 200 are good learning opportunities, especially for less experienced mushers. Jonrowe said, “It’s important to get these qualifier races available so the drivers can learn thing.” She added, “You really only learn by doing.” Mushers in the Knik 200 got a taste of long-distance mushing, including a mandatory rest that included camping, and caring for their teams.
One musher hoping to gain valuable experience in the Knik 200 was Ellen King, daughter of four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King. She was running the Knik 200 as part of her own bid to qualify for a future Iditarod. King said racing with her father’s dogs, “is like driving a Cadillac.” Saturday’s race start was also Ellen King’s twenty-sixth birthday, and her goal for the race was simply to finish with “ten fingers and ten toes for me, and get everyone around happy and healthy.”
Talkeetna musher Anja Radano’s team was next to Ellen King’s in the preparation area. Radano already qualified for this year’s Iditarod, and her goal was to train her team and work on deciding which dogs will accompany her as she attempts the run to Nome in March. Some of her dogs had yet to run a competitive race. Radano said, “This is just to introduce them to the craziness of a race start…other dog teams, camping, stuff like that.”
Both King and Radano finished the race, and Anja says she’s very pleased with her team. Ellen King was close to breaking into the top ten with her run.
Further ahead in the pack, Nicolas Petit won the Knik 200. Petit could figure to be a major competitor in this year’s Iditarod after finishing third last year. Other notable names included Ray Redington, Lance Mackey, and Scott Janssen, all of whom turned in top-ten finishes.