After chasing other top mushers for three years, Dave Turner has finally proven himself a winner by snagging first place in the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race on Sunday.
The race, which takes mushers and their dog teams winding and climbing through the southern Kenai Peninsula’s Caribou Hills, was actually short of 200 miles this year, with the course coming in at 179.3 miles. Turner and 19 other mushers running the T200 took off from Freddie’s Roadhouse near Ninilchik on Saturday, making their way down to McNeil Canyon Elementary School east of Homer before looping back up to the Roadhouse. From there mushers went to a checkpoint in Kasilof before finishing back in the same place they started: Freddie’s.
Six mushers competing in the shorter T100 race finished after making that first loop down to Homer and back.
Turner, who moved to Fairbanks from the Lower 48 a few years ago and took third place the first time he ever ran the T200, claimed first this year with a total race time of 25 hours, 15 minutes. The win was especially sweet, he said, because his partner Eli Campbell had already won the T100. She finished in 12 hours, 12 minutes.
Not only was this Campbell’s first time in the T200, it’s also her first season racing.
“I started with tours around Jackson Hole in Wyoming, and then I met Dave at the Stage Stop (Race),” Campbell said. “And then he contacted me this fall and asked if I wanted to race dogs.”
The two run tours together and train for races just north of Fairbanks. Turner’s kennel is geared more toward short races and sprints like the Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage, so the T200 is one of the longest races his dogs run.
Campbell said she had a good time on the trail, which she said was marked well.
“There were really fun turns, kind of icy, sometimes powdery,” she said. “It was just an adventure. I loved it.”
Participating in and winning the T200 has long been a goal of Turner’s, since his days of racing in the Lower 48.
“Ever since I heard about this race from friends a long time ago I’ve always been interested, and moving to Alaska, (it) became one of my main goals to win this race as part of stepping up in the mushing world here,” he said.
Turner said it felt amazing that he and Campbell swept both classes in the race, but that they hadn’t come to the peninsula thinking it was a sure thing.
“We knew it was possible, but we do sled dog tours for Borealis Base camp in Fairbanks and we do tours all the time, we’re really busy,” he said. “And the racing dogs do a lot of tours, and that’s kept us from doing all the long miles that we had planned. So, we figured if it was short like it has been the last couple years, which it turned out to be, that we’d have a chance not only to win, but to dominate.”
Turner and Campbell said their dogs did well considering the difficulty of the course. Race organizers threw everything from hills to open water to ice at them, several mushers said.
Cim Smyth finished second in the race overall. He was the first musher in to the checkpoint at McNeil Canyon, and has won the T200 four times in the past.
“He’s legendary,” Turner said of Smyth. “And he’s a multiple-time champion of this race, and I’ve raced with him before and I know what he’s capable of.”
Smyth made up some time on Turner while they both made their way to the Centennial Lake checkpoint in Kasilof, Turner said.
“That really put a fire behind me to not quit or to not relax until we were done,” he said.
“I worried him — I think I worried him,” Smyth said of Turner with a laugh.
Smyth, too, commented on the difficulty of the trail conditions.
“Icy, and rough,” he said. “Just moguls and any kind of rough you can think of. … The high temperature really got me.”
While one of his dogs had to be pulled from the line and brought to the finish on his sled, Smyth said he’s happy with how they performed.
“They did good. I was really happy with them,” he said. “They performed pretty well. It was just too hot for them to compete with his (Turner’s) dogs.”
Last year’s T200 winner, Nicolas Petit, cruised to the finish line in third place, just four minutes ahead of the next musher, Travis Beals.
1. Dave Turner
2. Cim Smyth
3. Nicolas Petit
4. Travis Beals
5. Mitch Seavey
6. Sarah Stokey
7. Lance Mackey
8. Martine Le Levier
9. Jeff Deeter
10. Anna Berington
11. Grayson Bruton
12. Kristy Berington
13. Michi Konno
14. Joshua McNeal
15. Nick Lehr
16. Amanda Nagy
17. Quince Mountain
18. Hal Hanson
19. Ryan Santiago
20. Susannah Tuminelli, out of Centennial Lake, 5:15 p.m. Sunday
1. Eli Campbell
2. Frank Habermann
3. Monica Zappa
4. Matthias Schaerer
5. Tim Osmar