Monday, April 11, 2022

Just one team remains on the trail of the Kobuk 440

It will be several hours before the red lantern finishes in the 2022 Kobuk 440 (close to five hours to go unless they pick up the pace), but Kotzebue are excited to cheer the musher in. Jim Bourquin should finish around 6:30pm Alaska Time tonight, which means he will most likely be late to the Awards dinner (and miss the musher meeting). 

Bourdin is a transplant from Washington State, when he moved up in 2009 to work with Iditarod musher John Baker. He ran his first Kobuk 440 in 2010. 

This will conclude the major mid and long distance mushing season in Alaska. Teams are already prepping for some dryland races scheduled to take place later this year, while many are gearing up for a Summer Tourist season on glaciers. It's been a fantastic season, comment below with your favorite moments!

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Neff wins Kobuk 440 two minutes ahead of Diehl

 In a near photo finish, Hugh Neff driving the Northern White Kennel dogs, came into the finish in Kotzebue just two minutes ahead of Richie Diehl this morning. Neff's win comes after a "forced scratch" in the 2022 Iditarod when officials and veterinarians grew concerned that the pace he set for his team was not conducive for the team's wellbeing. Neff came to the Kobuk with something to prove, and it looks like he has. 

Richie Diehl nearly took the win after starting last night with a one hour deficit to make up against the former Yukon Quest champion. Diehl ate up miles and time throughout the night to come within two minutes of placing ahead of Neff. Diehl told the Kobuk 440 volunteers at the finish that he was "Tired. Long night chasing down Hugh. Almost, but not quite." 

Neff's team definitely slowed as he made the last leg into the finish, which is to be expected when the team took the lead day one and held it throughout the entire race. Breaking trail, keeping a top speed, it all takes it out of the team - even the best prepared ones. Diehl held back early in the race before picking his way and managing a solid top three. Diehl made his move overnight to try and take the championship, and it nearly paid off. While Neff's team looked like they were ready to be done, Diehl's team came charging into the finish all pulling hard and tails up and wagging. Diehl should be very proud of what he accomplished.

Teams will continue coming into Kotzebue for the next 24 hours or so. Next in line should be Eddie Burke, Jr. who is about six miles from the finish so in under the next hour. He'll be followed by Ryan Redington.

Kobuk 440 is LIVE

Diehl trying to chase down Neff

While most of us were sleeping, Richie Diehl made his move over night and has pretty much negated the one hour lead Hugh Neff had on the team from Aniak. Only two to three miles separate the two teams with about 5 miles until the finish. It's unlikely that Neff loses this one, but it's always a possibility that when a team is driven hard from start to finish they don't quite make it to the finish. Still with only five miles to go the musher and his team of all white, all female, Alaskan Huskies should be able to keep the Real Diehl team at bay.

Now is a good time to get over the Kobuk 440 Facebook page as they will most likely go live as the teams approach Kotzebue. 

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Holmes, Early scratch - trackers to remain active

Holmes scratches from Kobuk 440

Fans were buzzing early this morning when they noticed one of the front runners, Jessie Holmes, was still in Ambler while the rest of the race had seemed to continue on without him. Speculation went in a miriad of directions until about 11am Alaska time when the race posted a simple statement on their social media accounts. Holmes had scratched. Team was safe in Ambler. No more information at this time.

Holmes was running well up until the time of his stop in Ambler making a case for his team to possibly take the top prize if he could stick with Neff and keep Redington behind. With few reports coming from the race above the Arctic Circle we can really only go by what we saw on the GPS. Speeds were pretty steady, however we all know speed is a fine line in dog mushing. Push too hard too long, even in shorter races, and some teams just can't hack it. According to Nic Petit - who is following the race from home and commenting on his own social media page - Jessie's team was showing signs of stiffness (possibly due to the cold temps and hard trail). Petit reports that Holmes' team will be making its own way back to Kotzebue.

There are still thirteen teams on the trail as of Saturday morning. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

2022 Kobuk 440 Race Preview

The season hasn't ended yet, folks! We still have one final mid-distance race here in Alaska and it's a fun one! The Kobuk 440 kicks off Thursday at 12:30pm and boasts a roster of Western Alaskan teams as well as some very familiar faces from the Iditarod and Quest Circuits. This year's race is sure to cap a dramatic season in the perfect ways. Last year we saw teams get stuck in horrible Western Alaska winds that blew very similarly to what we saw in the Iditarod this year - it will be interesting to see what the Coast throws at all of the teams this year (watch it be completely calm and smooth the whole weekend).

Teams flew out earlier this week and have taken some training runs out of Kotzebue. The race will start and end in the Western Alaska Hub and will visit the villages of Noorvik, Selawik, Ambler, Shungnak, Kobuk, and Kiana. The purse this year is $60,000.00 to be divided up for the top teams (but the race hasn't given a breakdown). There is mandatory total of 20 hours rest for this race to be taken in the checkpoints. With the start being a mass start (as in all teams leave at the same time) there is no need to do a time differential.

There are fourteen teams ready to hit the trail, so let's take a few minutes and preview those that should challenge for first, and then look at ways to follow the race. And, as always, if you like what you see and want to support my addiction (I mean HOBBY) of following these races and stalking (I mean cheering on) the mushers, you can buy me a slice of pizza (that really goes to paying for my internet/web expenses).

Jeff King - King is running a hybrid team of dogs from his Husky Homestead and Nic Petit's team. Jeff was apparently very taken with the speed and athleticsm of Nic's dogs that he asked to take a few on the Kobuk and Nic agreed. It's unclear if Jeff is just going to have fun or if he's running to be competitive. Time will tell, but, if the race has good weather and nicely set trails I expect Jeff to push his team to be as competitive as possible.  

Jessie Holmes - Holmes just finished the Iditarod in third place behind Brent Sass and Dallas Seavey, it may be time to consider him a real contender in the sport. Holmes likes to start and finish fast, and that really works well in mid-distance races. It will be interesting to see what his team has left in it from last month's Iditarod, but expect Jessie to stick right up near the front.

Richie Diehl - The 6th place finisher of Iditarod 50 is also the 2020 Kusko Champion. Don't expect Richie to sit back and relax in this race. He is a musher from the West Coast of Alaska (though, further south in Aniak) and so his team should be able to handle the winds, ground storms, and all that the Alaskan coast likes to throw at these teams in the spring.

Ryan Redington - Redington is the 2021 Kobuk champion and is looking to repeat. Last year an insane storm made for an interesting finish with differentials and restarts and lots of mushing math. This year the musher is no doubt hoping for a more straightforward end to his race. And hopefully he will for sure be the first to cross the finishline.

Dark Horse: Hugh Neff - Neff's Iditarod was cut short and I won't rehash that all now. Needless to say it will be interesting to see how Hugh plays this one out. Don't be surprised if he pushes hard and fast the whole way. That's a little safer for mid-distance races than it is for a 900+ mile race. Neff will once again be running dogs out of Jim Lanier's Northern Whites Kennel. I'm guessing he'll want to make a top placement to win money for his kennel rebuild.

There are nine other capable teams running the Kobuk and as we all know, anything is possible in this race. It'll be a fun one this weekend!

How to Watch

Unlike what we just had with Iditarod (if you paid for Insider), the Kobuk like most of the mid-distance races relies more on social media posts and radio updates than they do video. Depending on weather and internet connection there may be live video of the start and finish, but with temps hitting below zero plus windchill bringing temps even lower we could see a frozen feed (pun not truly intended). Still, there are ways to keep up with the race happenings, so let's make sure we have all of the links you need.

Official Website - You can find the rules, links to all ways of following the race, and the history of the Kobuk 440 here. Musher bios are also available. The official website may have links to live feeds, so also keep a look out for that. Click here for the link.

GPS Tracker - We're all attached to this bit of technology. If you wonder where the term "tracky boi" came from, you can thank the Kobuk 440. Their social media team were the first to coin the phrase... the phrase that sets some fans' teeth on edge, but it's becoming more endearing each year. Once again, you can follow the race thanks to TrackLeaders (link is not yet live). Beep-boop-beep.

Radio Broadcast - Race updates throughout the weekend will be broadcast over on KOTZ-AM. They have a livestream. They may broadcast the start, but it's unclear. Click here to listen in.

Social Media - This is where it's at. The most entertaining race has to be the Kobuk 440 for their amazing social media team. The volunteers know how to get and keep your attention. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter where they are most active as well as Instagram. KOTZ-AM also has a Facebook page that should share some race info throughout the weekend.

Schedule of Events

Thursday, April 7
12:30pm - Race Start

Monday, April 11
5pm - Musher Meeting
6pm - Awards Ceremony

Got any predictions? Who are you cheering for? Comment below!
*Edit April 7, 2022 - map link went live this morning. Added link.