Updated: Jul 28
The news cycle at ALO has been delayed a bit for the biggest news out of Bethel in a long time. Bethel’s top dog racer Pete Kaiser has won the 2019 Iditarod and with that, much of the daily life in Bethel drew to a halt. The actual finish happened at about 3:30 in the morning in Nome, and about 70 folks from Bethel were there along with a large mob of others to welcome Pete. The scene was electric, and if you haven’t watched it you really should see this video clip of his finish and warm welcome. Be sure to watch til the end when Pete greets the wild Bethel crowd at the fence. Security was fairly tight in the actual finish line area, but Iditarod board member Andy Angstman was able to score a VIP pass for his Dad on the basis of some fairly skimpy credentials. Alaska folks don’t need much explanation why this event was such a big deal but readers elsewhere might say so what? Here’s what: The Iditarod among Alaskans is the kind of event where most people know the main contenders by their first name. Many follow the race tracker which allows a fan to know exactly where a team is at all times. It is not unusual for a fan to check the tracker dozens or even hundreds of times a day. The tracker at ALO is open constantly, and checked several times an hour. Towards the end of the race in Nome it was checked every few minutes as Pete made his way to the finish line without a sure victory in hand. None of the Bethel fans went to bed that night before 5 am. And you can’t see it on the video clip, but there were lots of tears shed at the finish line, starting with Pete and right through the people he hugged.
For Bethel, a small rural town in a state dominated by urban interests, having a hometown champion is like Edgerton winning the Minnesota state basketball tournament (that’s for the elders in the crowd), its like the US beating the Russians in hockey, and it’s like the Twins winning the world series. How else could you explain so many people spending over a thousand dollars to fly to Nome midweek on short notice, taking time from work and school, to wait in 20 degree temperatures and a snow storm, at 3:30 in the morning to watch a finish? Many folks have seen most Iditarod finishes in recent years. None came close to the excitement level of this one. In fact, many have been ho-hum with winners from giant racing kennels along the road system, some winning frequently. This was different. There was much talk about the Kuskokwim 300’s role in Pete’s win. It did play a role. Pete started racing as a little guy in the one dog races, and progressed through 3 and 5 dog races, then the 8 dog 50 mile events. He is the only person to have won the local triple crown, the Akiak Dash, the Bogus Creek 150 and the Kuskokwim 300. He is for sure a product of our local race program. This was the scene when he arrived home at the terminal.
And this was the road into town. Check Facebook for a bunch more on the Iditarod, including a video on board a sled driven by an elder riding out of Anchorage as second sled driver for Jessica Klejka.
Speaking of Jessica, her Iditarod effort earned her a photo shoot in Vogue Magazine, but instead of a slinky dress they had her in a parka. Of note is the fact that one of the photos shows the last lead dog ever trained at Old Friendly Dog Farm. Radar, the yellow dog in front, was a young leader here two years ago and was given to Jessica when the Farm shut down. She just completed the race with Jessica and was the lead dog at the finish. Its a long article, but well worth the read with wonderful photos and videos.
Camping out at the Nome Nugget newspaper while waiting for Pete to finish, it was deadline day and editor Diana Haecker wanted to get the finish on the front page to be published the next day. She evaluated the race Tuesday evening and decided to take a chance on designing the front page, coming up with a tentative layout before 10 pm while Pete was still a long way from Nome. She allowed the photo below be taken almost six hours before the finish, as long as there was a solemn promise that it not be used if Pete lost the race.
Despite all that dog stuff, there was legal work done. Two significant lawsuits were filed. One involved a series of sexual assaults at a school in Palmer. Here is a news report on the school case and another on a state trooper shooting in a village near bethel.
Lamont Albertson likes a good cartoon. He posts them frequently, and most are like this.
This month’s mandatory moose comes from former Bethelite Glenda Bach, and it’s a good one
Another former Bethelite Beth Rearden Hill is an artist. Her work is becoming more widely known, and is featured here. The author of the book Ann Fienup-Riordan visited the Angstman home long ago when she was researching and writing a book about the Yupik people in Toksook Bay.
Bethel roads are tough. They make dog sledding seem smooth. That’s why Pete won the Iditarod. Here is a short sample of what exists all over town, by community activist Bev Hoffman.
Finally a short segment from an Anchorage TV station. Janet Kaiser has been a dear family friend for over 40 years, long before her son emerged as a top competitive dog racer. When he won the Iditarod she was sought out for her reaction. Her kind words will last for a long time at ALO.