Team #2 — Bradley Kishbaugh, of Soldotna, and Ryan Sottosanti, of Wasilla — ride their snowmachine during the 2023 Iron Dog. (Photo provided by Bradley Kishbaugh)

Team #2 — Bradley Kishbaugh, of Soldotna, and Ryan Sottosanti, of Wasilla — ride their snowmachine during the 2023 Iron Dog. (Photo provided by Bradley Kishbaugh)

Local racers complete Iron Dog

Three teams featuring Kenai Peninsula athletes crossed the finish line this year, and a fourth participated in the race

The 2023 Iron Dog snowmachine race — which challenges teams of two to cover 2,500 miles of wilderness — came to a close Saturday. The win went to Tyler Aklestad, of Palmer, and Nick Olstad, of Wasilla, for the second straight year. They finished at 52 hours, 58 minutes and 32 seconds.

Three teams featuring Kenai Peninsula athletes crossed the finish line this year, and a fourth participated in the race, which starts in Big Lake, loops up to Kotzebue, then goes through Nome and returns to Big Lake.

Finishing fifth at 60:54:37 was Soldotna’s Bradley Kishbaugh and partner Ryan Sottosanti, of Wasilla.

This year’s race was Kishbaugh’s second Iron Dog. He said that last year he was just looking to get a feel for the race, ultimately finishing sixth. This year, he was out to hit the top five — which he did. Thursday, he was already looking ahead to 2024.

“I know what it takes to push to win the race,” he said. “That’s what I’m after.”

Travis Temple, a Nikiski resident, and Chad Moore, of Sterling, claimed 12th with a 75:44:08 finish.

For Temple, the finish has been years in the making, this being his third attempt. He said that was the only goal for his team this year.

“Just getting across that finish line was astronomical for me and Chad,” he said.

Through mechanical issues — including one major setback — as well as tough weather, Temple said the team got there by keeping good attitudes and high spirits.

Kishbaugh also said this year’s race featured rough conditions. Like Temple, Kishbaugh said he had to work through challenging weather and mechanical issues.

“It was hard to keep the snowmachines together,” he said. “It’s hard to find that fine line, pushing yourself and pushing your machine to keep it together.”

Both racers said they experienced a significant delay in their race because of an equipment failure.

“If you’re breaking parts, you’re losing time,” Kishbaugh said.

A clutch, broken into two pieces, cost Kishbaugh between 45 minutes to an hour around White Mountain, “a nightmare,” he said. Kishbaugh said they had the most trouble getting the remaining half of the clutch off the machine.

Temple said that for most of the race they were hanging around “top six, seven, eight,” but then a broken part meant they had to be towed 85 miles backward to a checkpoint where they could get a fix. Temple said that cost them nearly 12 hours.

Now that Temple has seen the race to its end, he said he can come back next year with new goals, higher standards and a level of confidence that they can be competitive with the top racers.

Soldotna’s Tad Covault, joined by Californian David Wagner, finished 15th at 95:36:02.

A fourth local team included two Kenai residents, Duncan Brewer and Cole Crandall, who scratched from the race heading north at Puntilla. Official communications from Iron Dog point to a mechanical issue cutting Brewer and Crandall’s race short.

Temple said he’s actively working on building up the Iron Dog locally and getting more peninsula racers. When Kishbaugh finished sixth last year, it was the first time a peninsula racer finished the event since Soldotna’s Cory Davis won in 2017.

Temple said he and some of the other racers, including Moore, Brewer and Couvalt, help out with local youth races.

“I’d love to see more local teams,” he said.

Preparation for next year’s race will start before snow hits the ground, Kishbaugh said, with gym time before they can get out with the snowmachines. When snow and ice are out, he said they’ll be getting out and putting on miles, especially on the actual course.

That preparation aside, Kishbaugh said it would ultimately be a contest of mental fortitude.

“The ones that put in the time and train up on the Iron Dog trail are the ones that are going to be successful in the race,” Kishbaugh said.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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