For the first time in the race’s history, the Kuskokwim 300 did not have checkpoints in Kalskag or Aniak. That’s left some Aniak residents disappointed, and more than a little surprised.
"It wasn’t foreseen," said Dave Diehl. "Every winter you think it can’t get any worse than this, and then the next winter is worse."
Diehl started running dogs way back in 1978, when he borrowed a few dogs to haul wood from the forest to his property. He’s also the father of Richie Diehl, a professional musher and local favorite. If the race had passed through Aniak, Diehl would have been able to see his son at the checkpoint. "I kinda spend my time following him and making sure everything’s good for him, and watch him come and go," he said.
Mushers have run the K300 under grueling, abnormal conditions before, said Diehl, but it always sorted itself out; people came to expect that. But while Aniak’s conditions are actually perfect for mushing right now, the warm weather left too many holes in the river near Kalskag, some of which are unmarked. Diehl said that he accepted that the regular route was too dangerous - particularly for rookies.
Dave Diehl wasn't able to see Richie in the race this year. He stayed in Aniak to watch the family’s remaining 35 to 40 dogs, and followed his son's progress by the race's GPS tracker. He's already looking forward to next year's race. "This is just a little hiccup. It’ll be back here probably for good after this," he said. "Hopefully it doesn’t happen again."
Last weekend Aniak put away the handmade posters and tried to figure out what to do with all the supplies they had hustled together for the race. "We’ve got 30 bales of straw here," said Erich Kuball, one of the race's board members. "We went to Costco a while back and bought all these spiral hams."
Kuball has co-supervised the Aniak checkpoint for years. He was also surprised by the change in the trail - he thought the board would just delay the race’s start - and said that the village has enough food to feed dozens and dozens of people. There may be a tremendous feast in store for the community's next major school function.