Rohn Buser has won his second Kuskokwim 300 title. He arrived in Bethel at 9:18 Sunday morning after a 50-mile run from the final checkpoint of Tuluksak. The 24-year-old Big Lake musher had previously won the 2012 race. Buser outlasted a chasing Jeff King to take the title in a close finish. King finished at 9:25, just seven minutes behind Buser. He was three minutes slower than Buser over the 50 miles into Bethel.
Buser had to defend a four minute edge over a five hour run to secure the 2014 victory.
“I figured he’d try to catch me so I had to push a little bit. Because I know his team has a lot of speed too, said Buser. “My guys, they went fast.”
Buser says he was confident in his team. It included a couple dogs from his 2012 winning team like a leader, Flash.
“That last run, they were cruising along really nicely. So that was fun,” said Buser.
King and Buser battled through the 300 mile race with close run times and a very similar schedule. King built a lead of 13 minutes by the time they drove down the river to Kalskag inbound Saturday evening. King anticipated defending that small edge over the race’s final 100 miles, but poor trail marking drew both mushers off course.
“Most of the time in this race you turn your light on you see reflectors. When I pulled out on over the bank it was black and slippery and my team ended up in a big ball,” said King.
He said he wasted some time on the ice when he couldn’t afford it.
“Rohn put together a couple of great runs, and I had a couple of a loop-de-loos on the ice, and he made off with the best of it. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. That was really a fast, fast, run,” said King.
The 35th running of the race brought the Kuskokwim’s arsenal of rain, snow, overflow, ice, fierce headwinds, and more. Buser tells KYUK that the weather began very warm, but quickly shifted.
“After Bogus Creek, it got pretty wet, and was wet and slush all the way up to Aniak,” said Buser. “On the way back a lot of that water froze into glare or some ice crust with water under it. It was interesting, but it wasn’t 40 below, so it’s easy on us,” said Buser.
Buser pushed out to a fast start, recording the second fastest time into Tuluksak and leaving the checkpoint in the first position. He stayed in the front pack of the race though Kalskag and Aniak. King and Buser kept an almost identical schedule: they both chose to split the six hours of rest into a four hour break in Kalskag and an hour each in Aniak and Kalskag inbound. Jeff’s strong run through sloppy trail conditions to the midpoint of Aniak included passing Buser and earning a small four minute lead. That grew to 13 minutes before the incident outside the Kalskag checkpoint.
“That’s one of the reasons I don’t like being out first. You don’t find me rushing to the front of the race because that’s where the problems are and I ran smack dab into one. By the time we got it fixed I was a big knot and my snaps were all covered with ice. I couldn’t get them untangled and Rohn zoomed on by,” said King.
Buser too was unable to find the correct trail. Checkpoint crews pointed the two mushers to the trail and Buser added guidance from a GPS unit loaded with last year’s course. He arrived into the Tuluksak checkpoint with a four minute edge on King and never relinquished it.
The Buser family nows has four titles. Rohn’s father Martin Buser won in 1994 and 2007. Rohn adds a victory in the Knik 200 to his 2014 accomplishments. Buser gets $22,000 for the win and second place King earns $16,500.