Aniak musher Isaac Underwood won the K300’s coveted Red Lantern prize this year, coming in last and finishing 12th with a time of 63 hours and 4 minutes.
"This one was a real rough one," said Underwood. "I knew the dogs could handle it and we got through it."
This is Underwood’s sixth K300. He grew up mushing with his father in the woods near Aniak and Crooked Creek, and he still remembers his first run.
"My first run was in a basket when I was, like, four or five on a trapline with my dad," he said. "It was an old tractor trail and gold mining trail. I just enjoyed being out in the wilderness with the dogs and my dad."
Underwood likes the silence of mushing and the seclusion of the woods. He and his father still mush together today. "And the dogs really enjoy it," he said. "They howl after every meal, and they’re always happy."
Underwood knew the K300 would be rough this year and trained diligently for it. He took his dog team on camping trips and mushed with four-hour rests. His team did plenty of ice training. His team had a great main leader, he said, a seven-year-old who’s been training the rest of his dog team by example.
But the team ran into an unexpected problem on the trail. Underwood’s cooker broke early on in the race, and his dogs depend on the broth from those cooked meals to stay hydrated.
"They did good on the rests," Underwood said, "but the dehydration really took us out of it."
Underwood is proud of his Red Lantern finish. And with a purse of more than $8,000, he may have just won the most money in dog mushing history for finishing last in a race.
Underwood is already looking ahead to the next big challenge: the Yukon Quest, a grueling, thousand-mile race into Canada. He’s taking 14 dogs with him, including his six leaders from K300. The race starts in Fairbanks on February 3.