You’d think Jeff King has seen and done it all in more than 40 years of mushing, but last weekend brought him to a new place in his career.
“I can honestly say this is the first Red Lantern award I’ve ever won,” King said Saturday at a brief awards ceremony at Alpine Creek Lodge, the finish line for the Alpine Creek 200 and 300 sled dog races.
A minute later, King received another award, this one for winning the 200-mile race.
King, a four-time Iditarod winner, was the only musher to compete in the 200-mile race. Four teams entered the 300-mile race.
It was the inaugural year for the Denali Highway event, which counts as an Iditarod qualifier, Alpine Creek Lodge owner Jennifer Bondy said.
“We’re going to grow next year,” she said.
Jessie Holmes of Nenana beat Mitch Seavey of Seward by 1 hour, 23 minutes, to win the 300-mile race. Hal Hanson placed third and Dakota Schlosser was fourth.
Conditions were ideal – minus-10 to minus-40 temperatures, a hard, fast trail on ample snow and bluebird skies. When accepting his awards for being first place and last place in the 200-mile race, King called the area the best place in Alaska, “and this year the best trails too.”
The race began Thursday with an untimed run from Cantwell at Mile 134 of the Denali Highway to Alpine Creek Lodge at Mile 68. A restart was held Friday morning at the lodge.
The 200-mile race went from Cantwell to the lodge, back to Cantwell and then back to the lodge. The 300-mile race added two 46-mile runs between the lodge and Mile 45 of the highway. Mushers in the longer race had to take a total of eight hours of rest.
Holmes, the 2018 Iditarod rookie of the year, finished at 8:21 p.m. Saturday. Three-time Iditarod champion Seavey arrived at 9:44 p.m. and Hanson, who was racing a team of Seavey dogs, finished at 10:05 p.m. Schlosser took the Red Lantern award with a 3:48 a.m. finish on Sunday.
No trail times were kept.
Both Hanson and Schlosser used the race to qualify for the 2021 Iditarod, Bondy said.