Paul Gebhardt is running the best K300 of his career. And that could be a good sign for the Kasilof musher who, at age 54, is still chasing an elusive Iditarod victory.
Few racers have come so close, so many times, without laying claim to the championship. Gebhardt finished the Iditrod as runner up in 2007 and 2000. He’s also placed 3rd in 2006 and 5th in 2001. “I’ve been close several times, but I’m not getting any younger,” says Gebhardt.
Thus far the biggest title in Gebhardt’s carrer was a Copper Basin 300 victory in 2000.
Mike Williams Jr. of Akiak left the Tuluksak checkpoint just 22 minutes behind Gebhardt and has a chance to spoil the long awaited victory.
Gebhardt says despite this opportunity to win the K300 he’s sticking to his plan. “If they finish well, and they’re healthy, that will lean towards a really good Iditarod coming up.”
When Gebhardt arrived in Bethel for the start of the race he said he was excited about his team. It consists of many of the same dogs that raced last year. Those dogs were subjected to 30 mph winds as they ran on glare ice in ambient temperatures of -20 to -30 degrees below zero. The same team then ran the Iditarod last year as 2-year-olds.
“They have more depth to them. They’re maturing and they’re reaching their prime,” says Gebhardt.
They’ve also proven they can run with some speed. This year’s K300 trail is made fast by frozen snow, and Gebhardt’s dogs have been pushing the pace since leaving the Aniak checkpoint which is the last checkpoint before the Whitefish Lake loop brings them back towards the finish line.
Gebhardt has raced the K300 seven times, and he typically finishes in the middle of the field. His best finish was in 2005, when he came in 4th place.
This race was the first big test for his team this season, and it validates Gebhardt’s suspision about his team. “I think I’ve got the best team I’ve probably put together, as far as all 16 dogs.”
Sixteen dogs is the limit for Iditarod teams.The limit for the K300 is 14 dogs. Gebhardt left Tuluksak with 10 dogs. They will likely be a part of his Iditarod attempt this March.
“I don’t have to win the Iditarod four or five times, but I’d still like to win it once.”