By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Nicolas Petit won his first Copper Basin 300 [CB300] sled dog race on Jan. 15 with a time of 2 days, 8 hours and 13 minutes.
He finished an hour and five minutes ahead of second place Dan Kaduce.
The CB300 victory was Petit’s biggest win in what looks to be a very promising season for the veteran Iditarod musher. The CB300 begins and ends in Glennallen and mushers consider the mid-distance race the toughest of the season.
Team Petit also had three additional teams entered in the race. Rookie Iditarod musher Bradley Farquhar finished ninth running a team of Ken Anderson’s dogs. Rookie Iditarod musher Emily Maxwell finished sixteenth. Farquhar and Maxwell will be running their first Iditarod this year.
Rookie musher Kelby Dillon was in his first race after less than two weeks of training, but scratched 14 miles from the finish. He was able to run the dogs to the finish line. (Please the related article A Musher’s Dream: Part One.)
It was -6 degrees in Glennallen when Team Petit pulled into the CB300’s musher’s lot around 8 a.m. on Jan. 13. Petit, Maxwell, Farquhar and Dillon quickly went about removing dogs then gear from the dog trailers. Chains were set on the side of the team’s trucks to hook up dogs for pee and poo.
A quick meat soup was made, consisting of assorted meat with water, keeping dogs hydrated while giving them energy. Then sleds were set up. Paying attention to time was important so that sleds were ready and dogs were hooked onto the gangline when it was time for each musher to start.
Once dogs are hooked onto the gangline and race time approaches, the volume of dog barking grows exponentially in a musher’s lot. With 43 teams of 12 dogs, that’s potentially 516 dogs airing their vocal cords. The dogs are energized and want to get moving.
Issued bib #15, Farquhar was the first musher on Team Petit to leave the starting chute. Farquhar is in his second year mushing after running his first year with Ken Anderson. Farquhar is from Nova Scotia, Canada and was happy to have an early start in the race.
Maxwell had bib #30 in her second CB300. She quietly went through her pre-race routine while giving her dogs plenty of reassuring attention. She said she was feeling much more confident than last year.
Petit, bib #31, was ready to go after a last minute scramble to pack his sled. During preparation, he also watched over musher Dillon. Petit gave advice and answered questions. Dillon, who had bib #39, said he was excited to get started. He stood by ready and waiting to get his team hooked up to the four-wheeler.
CB300 race officials rope four-wheelers to the back of the sleds to hold excited dogs from surging ahead. Teams must cross the Glenn Highway to get to the starting chute, and less experienced mushers sometimes have difficulty controlling their dogs. Teams leave in two-minute intervals, so everything moves quickly.
When a team reaches the chute and is set, there is a brief countdown before “GO!” followed by the patter of bootied paws and the hiss of sled runners before mushers disappear into the distance and are off to Chistochina, the first checkpoint.
Petit had an impressive first run that helped set up the rest of his race. Within 4-hours and 54-minutes he had passed 17 other teams to be 13th musher into Chistochina. After Petit checked in with race officials, his handlers told him where his food bags were and where to get water.
Farquhar arrived in 13 minutes later, followed by Maxwell 43 minutes later.
Dillon arrived just over an hour after Maxwell and had a big problem with his sled. His metal sled brake had a complete break 16 miles into the race, leaving him to use the drag mat to slow and stop the dogs on a rough course. Veteran mushers, Nic’s handlers and a race official began problem solving to get Dillon back into the race.
Possibilities included acquiring another sled on the fly, finding a welder or swapping the brake with a new one. Dillon was concerned about going down the rugged stretch of mountains on the leg to Meier’s Lake and having the brake fracture again, leaving him stuck in the middle of the run, if not worse. Mushing veterans gave him advice and reassured him. Dillon chose to proceed knowing the challenges he may face ahead.
To fix the brake, it was tied together and anchored to a couple of points on the sled. Then a rusty, nine-inch nail with a 90-degree bend was strapped to the brake using three hose clamps. The impromptu fix held throughout Dillon’s race.
By the time Petit reached the second checkpoint at Meier’s Lake, he had passed 10 mushers to arrive 2nd place, only 10 minutes behind the first musher to arrive. Petit arrived into Sourdough 32 minutes behind the first musher and left for Mendeltna Lodge 20 minutes before him.
When Petit was the first musher into Mendeltna Lodge, it was clearly his race to lose. His lead handler, Tyler Schmitt, had arrived and they were discussing the race times of other mushers and the length of Nic’s lead. During Petit’s three-hour checkpoint stay, he was quietly happy and confident with how his race was progressing. The veterinarians said his 11 dogs looked great, and he knew his first CB300 win was in sight.
The final time the Gazette saw Petit racing was when trail paralleled Glenn Highway east to Glennallen. A few race fans and Schmitt were waiting for Petit to pass them at a road point. Petit was celebrating the run to his first CB300 win as he slightly slowed his sled to give a high five and accept an energizing victory burrito before crossing the metal arch at the finish line.