There were only two rules at the Freddie’s Midnight Run dog sled race through the Caribou Hills on Saturday — be nice and don’t cheat.
“Be nice to your dogs, be nice to other people’s dogs, be nice to each other and don’t cheat,” said race organizer Tim Osmar of Clam Gulch.
The 86-mile race began at Freddie’s Roadhouse, located at Mile 16 of Oilwell Road in the Caribou Hills, and brought together 11 Kenai Peninsula area mushers for some end-of-the-year fun, said Monica Zappa, who won the race with a time of 8 hours, 25 minutes and 33 seconds.
The best thing about the race, according to Freddie Pollard of Freddie’s Roadhouse, is the start.
“We do a shotgun start where all the mushers are in their sleeping bags so when the gun fires they have to get up, pack their bag, hook their dogs up and take off,” he said.
At 6:30 p.m. Saturday, the gun was fired and the mushers jumped out of their sleeping bags to get their dogs off and running. There were some mishaps at the start, with several teams heading the wrong way down the trail and one dog getting loose, but their courses were adjusted and the dog was quickly returned via snowmachine.
The first award of the race went to Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof, who was the first racer across the road and on the trail after the shotgun start.
The race was on a 43-mile trail throughout Caribou Hills. The mushers completed the trail twice, finishing the first late during the night Saturday and starting again Sunday at about noon.
Throughout the race, Zappa said everything went smoothly for all the mushers. No one ran into any issues even though the temperature was warmer than expected, at about 40 degrees each day.
“The snow was a little soft, mushy along the way, but it was a fun time,” she said.
Before the race, Mydzung Osmar of Clam Gulch said she planned on winning but that having fun was “more important.” She came in third, behind Zappa and Frank Haberman. Other racers included Kaiden Foster, Gebhardt, Whitney Yager, Emily Thiem, Leah Gifford, Gus Guenther, Ryan Santiago and Jason Young.
Organizing the race is a group effort between Tim Osmar, Zappa and Pollard.
“This is our third race, one year it got skipped because there was no snow,” Pollard said. “But, I just wanted to have another race through here. The only race is the T-200 and this is just a good time.”
Zappa, who scratched during the 2017 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race at the Shaktoolik checkpoint, said it was exciting to race with local mushers in a low-pressure environment.
“The Iditarod was a huge learning experience for us and we all survived, but this race is just all about end of the year fun. … It’s a different trail than we’ve done, it’s beautiful and wooded, which is different than the stuff we train on. There are a few little creek crossings. It’s fun for the dogs,” Zappa said.
Before, during and after the race, Freddie’s Roadhouse acted as the home base for mushers and spectators. In between laps, mushers were invited to sleep wherever they could find room at Freddie’s Roadhouse. The best bet, Pollard said, was on the heated floor of the main dining room.
“It’s really fun and we support it because all of these are local mushers, having fun. You heard the rules,” Iditarod veteran Jane Adkins of Kasilof said. During the shot gun start, she could be heard shouting advice to Young, who was running her dogs in the race.
Unlike the T-200, Freddie’s Midnight Run is not a full-blown qualifier for the Iditarod, Pollard said.
“We don’t have the race marshal from Anchorage or anything like that.”
The race, though, was sponsored by the T-200 as well as the Sons of the American Legion Squadron 18 of Ninilchik, Kasilof Enterprises, Ninilchik Native Association and Seavey Ididaride, to name a few.
“This is Alaska,” Pollard said. “We’re about dog teams, right? This is all about local boys and local girls having fun with their dogs.”