January is dog race month in Bethel, and this year’s events managed to squeeze in between two weather systems that could have easily created havoc with the races. Actual press coverage of the Kuskokwim 300 was minimal, but race fans didn’t suffer as GPS trackers and social media now provide an immense amount of information about the race. This year for the first time race management was able to use a portable internet device to beam live race video on Facebook from the trail. Such innovation would have shocked early race fans who waited hours for reports on races. Now a quick check of the tracker shows the location of all teams and then a trip to social media usually has videos from the trail, including drone videos like this one from the start of the K300 by Skyler Kingrey.
What was once a race conducted mostly in the middle of nowhere except for checkpoint action now is visible almost anytime. In fact, one racer this year complained that a drone buzzed over him while peeing off the back of the sled, which was later confirmed by the drone operator.
This was the 44th running of the Kuskokwim 300. The first year purse was $12,000, which has now grown to $160,000, and there are numerous other related races staged in Bethel that push the total race committee payout to $350,000. Statewide there has been a drop in new racers taking part in dog race events, but the Bethel races have attracted a host of newcomers lured by the large purses and by the ease of entry. In fact, the winningest team in K300 events this year is a 19-year-old from Kwethluk named Ray Alexie who has won every event he entered so far.
Ray Alexie photo by Katie Basile
Despite the long-term success of the Kuskokwim 300, it has been consistently overlooked for inclusion in the event category of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. Many of the events already listed there are events created much more recently and several are events put on mostly by paid staff. The K300 has one full time employee aided by a host of volunteers. The event happens in a remote area creating logistic issues every year. That remote location partially explains why the Hall of Fame organization chooses not to acknowledge the K300. None of the people who select the recipients live in rural Alaska, and most board members lobby for their own local events. When you add to that the widely held bias against Bethel held by many urban Alaskans it is no wonder the Bethel organization hasn’t been picked. There is a public non-binding vote held every year and it was widely known that when the Kuskokwim 300 first appeared as a candidate, there was unprecedented public support for the race. While the Hall of Fame committee chooses not to recognize the K300, rural residents and dog racers know it to be the top event of its kind in the state of Alaska. Personal satisfaction is a far more important issue than public acclaim, and it is obvious that most of the people involved with putting on the K300 gain considerable satisfaction from the final product each year. Meanwhile there are three more races this winter to stage, so it’s back to work.
ALO Case Updates
ALO settled a significant motor vehicle accident case in the Matsu Valley recently, but many major injury cases are in late stages of discovery and will either settle or go to trial in coming months. The nature of a personal injury law practice usually involves cycles of many cases resolving in a short period of time and then a pause where few cases resolve for a while.
A recent trip to visit Ben and Sarah in Montana resulted in a chance meeting between Sue and Sandy Rolan in a quilt store in Helena, Montana. Sandy was one of ALO’s best helpers ever. She was given a pardon for rooting for Atlanta in the 1991 World Series but was never pardoned for leaving Bethel when she was badly needed in the office. 120 words a minute typists were few and far between in that era when most legal stuff had to be typed from scratch. She was always one step ahead of the lawyers, and some of them needed her guidance every day.
One Sandy story deserves some attention here. Sandy observed the Old Friendly Dog operation daily, and at one point she asked if she could race in the Akiak Dash. Such a reasonable request couldn’t be turned down, so she was put on a sled 7 times for training runs before taking off in a mass race start of the 65 mile race. Sue and others followed by snow machine and provided help during a one-hour layover at the halfway point in Akiak. During that stop, Sandy sought out a bathroom. Such modern conveniences barely existed in Akiak at that time, but someone directed her to a nearby home, where Sandy knocked on the door. A woman answered and of course offered up her facilities to this nice lady from Bethel. Sandy was directed to a honey bucket (a five-gallon pail) standing in the corner of the main room, in full sight of several kids and their mother watching TV close by. Despite working at ALO, Sandy was a very sophisticated woman, which included playing for symphony orchestras in more than one city. The idea of using a honey bucket in front of a bunch of people was slightly uncomfortable for her. She asked the woman of the house if there was a more private location. The answer has become part of ALO lore forever. “Oh don’t worry, it’s just us.”
Sandy completed her very un-private task and the race, finishing in fifth place in 1993. By comparison, world famous Pete Kaiser finished in fourth place in 2003 and went on to win many races including a later Akiak Dash and the Iditarod. Sandy works at the quilt store where she waited on Sue, and after a two-minute hug, this photo was taken. It is worth noting that not all former ALO employees qualify for hugs.
Mandatory Moose, Cartoons & Valentines
This month’s Mandatory Moose is a good one.
Connor Bog in Anchorage is the world’s best dog park, and here is one reason in this photo by Paul Malin from the middle of the park
Speaking of moose, Kuskokwim 300 race manager Paul Basile counted close to 50 moose in a five mile drive up the river recently, plus these two standing at the end of the ALO driveway.
Two cartoons made the cut for January. If they don’t make you laugh your sense of humor needs a tune-up.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, this true romance story is fitting. A Bethel couple was on vacation and decided to get a couple’s massage at a fancy spa. The room was decked out with soft music, dim lighting, and dual massage beds. The massages were excellent, and at the end the couple was left in the room covered with towels to savor the moment. After a bit, the lovely wife asked her husband what he was thinking about as he reclined nearby. The husband, who enjoys tinkering with vehicles in his spare time had a one word, mood altering answer: "Trucks".
Congress hasn’t done much yet, but there has been much talk about the massive Federal deficit with blame being directed at Biden for his agenda from the last two years. In actual fact, Trump’s massive 2017 tax cut for the richest people and companies has added trillions to the deficit over the life of the bill (8 years) and now Congress is looking at ways to get the poorest people in the country to pay for that through budget cuts. When the tax cut was passed it was said that increased economic activity would offset the cuts, but of course that didn’t happen.
A while back Trump claimed to be a stable genius but now he has used that incredible brain power to come up with a new description.
For a guy with three wives, six bankruptcies, a lost election and numerous former staff members hammering him in tell-all books, it seems his clairvoyant ability to see the future might be a little suspect. One has to wonder if he sees an indictment on the horizon.
Finally, a thought about economic growth. Many economists and demographers have noted that population growth and economic growth are closely linked, and they are sounding the alarm that the birth rate is declining in some of the largest economies, including the US and China. This entire subject is troubling. A growing economy is considered desirable, because that means there is an opportunity to make more money in the future. That is a simplistic view that avoids the larger question of whether the earth can sustain growth anymore. The answer is clearly no. The world population is far beyond the breaking point and is going to implode when the resources needed to support human life start to run out. A limited example is immigration in the US. Many folks would like to see it eliminated, mainly because the people arriving have different cultures than those already here. But large corporations don’t agree and have made it clear they want the population growth that comes from immigration to off-set the country’s declining birth rate. More people mean more workers and more buyers of products, both of which are needed by big companies. But most politicians don’t see that big picture and do their best to keep out immigrants, and then wonder why their favorite restaurant can’t stay open, or why the grocery store can’t keep full shelves. Planning for a stable economy rather than a growing economy is not as much fun, but it is a reality. There are limits to growth.