‘Shut up and go’ strategy gives Buser the K300 crown
Rohn Buser mushed his winning team across the finish line and into his mother Kathy’s waiting arms at the finish of the 2012 Kuskokwim Sled Dog Race.
The 22-year-old Big Lake musher decided early on to stay low. “I feel pretty good, glad to be out of that wind,” said Buser, who mushed his way into the Kuskokwim 300 history books on Sunday morning when he guided his team of 10 dogs across the finish. “I just kind of got really low on my sled and stayed out of the wind and let my dogs take care of it. I had a great run.”
He is the second youngest musher to win the Kuskokwim 300.
The team completed the 300-mile race in a time of 41 hours, 12 minutes and 2 seconds. He finished the race just over 30 minutes ahead of defending Iditarod winner John Baker and defending K300 champion Paul Gebhardt.
With the win, Buser earned a $20,000 payday, and etched his family into the race’s history books. Buser’s win made he and his father, Iditarod legend Martin Buser, the first father-son duo to win the state’s premier mid-distance sled dog race. Martin Buser won the K300 in 1994.
Rohn Buser established himself as a challenger for the title early in the race. The 2007 Junior Iditarod champion, he bolted from the starting game. He and his father covered the first leg of the race in 1 hour and 36 minutes and slid into Kwethluk checkpoint in second, behind Gebhardt.
Gebhardt managed to increase his lead a bit in the run to Tuluksak and Kalskag. Gebhardt outraced Buser by nine minutes en route to the next two checkpoints and took a 23-minute lead into the race’s halfway point at Aniak.
Buser turned up the heat from there. A three-time Kusko 300 participant, he let the dog run as he left Aniak on the inbound tail. By the time he slid into the Kalskag checkpoint, he had trimmed Gephardt’s lead to a mere 17 minutes.
The rest of Gebhardt’s lead melted away over the next few hours. Buser completed the inbound run from Kalskag to Tuluksak in a span of 5 hours and 17 minutes – 22 minutes faster than Gephardt.
When Buser hit the trail for the race’s final checkpoint in Kwethluk he held a slim lead over Gephardt and Baker.
There was no catching him from there.
He slid across the finish line at 11:42 a.m.
“This is definitely the windiest one (K300) I have done,” said Buser. “I just tried to keep my cool and let the dogs take care of everything. When they’re in the checkpoints that’s when it’s my job, when we’re on the trail let them do their thing. Just shut up and go.”
Baker survived a rough start to the race to finish second. He passed Gebhardt on the trail in the final 25 miles and then race to the finish line. The Kotzebue musher drove his team across the finish line at 12:13 p.m., afterwards graciously thanking everyone for putting on a great race.
“For some reason, the early part of the race I just seemed to make a lot of little mistakes, that just added up and added up. None of them all alone amounted to anything, but I just couldn’t get on to a good start,” said Baker, who won the 2010 K300 race. Baker made an astounding run after the Kalskag checkpoint, passing approximately 8 teams on the inbound Whitefish Lake portion of the trail.
Baker suffered having a bad headlamp, a bad hook, and the sled breaking in the middle of nowhere, which added up to a lot of time. A dog was resting in his sled bag.
“Today was his day,” he said of Rohn. “He and his dad and his mother they put together a wonderful dog team and a wonderful effort. They deserve all the credit in the world. Rohn worked really hard and he deserves the win that he’s got.”
Baker finished the race in an official time of 41 hours, 43 minutes and 28 seconds.
Gebhardt closed out another solid effort on the Kuskokwim River with a third-place finish. He mushed his team into Bethel at 12:29 and completed the race in a time of 41 hours, 49 minutes and 16 seconds.
“It was windy out there, and colder than I expected,” said Gebhardt.
Winds had been reported to about 20 miles-per-hour on the trail. The wind pushed the wind chill factor to minus-33 on Sunday afternoon.
Gebhardt said he wasn’t disappointed with his third-place finish.
“Third is OK with me,” he said. “The dogs did well.”
Gebhardt said his team will compete in the Yukon Quest race prior to competing in the Iditarod in March.
Aniak’s Richie Diehl finished fourth in the overall standings, and earned the K300’s “Best in the West” accolades. The “Best in the West” title honors the highest-finishing Yukon-Kuskokwim musher.
By finishing fourth, Diehl continued his hot start to the 2012 mushing season. Earlier this season he finished third in the Sheep Mountain 150.
“I feel pretty good (with the fourth-place finish),” said Diehl. “Especially considering the field it was. It was pretty tough.”
Diehl, who said he hoped to use his finish to spur him to a berth in the Iditarod next season, outraced 4-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey to the finish line. Fellow Iditarod veteran Aaron Burmeister finished sixth.
Akiak mushers Mike Williams Jr. and Sr. placed 10th and 15th. Isaac Underwood scratched in Aniak.
2012 K300 Race Results
1st Rohn Buser, 41:12:02
2nd John Baker, 41:43:48
3rd Paul Gebhardt, 41:59:16
4th Richie Diehl, 43:12:09
5th Lance Mackey, 43:38:26
6th Aaron Burmeister, 44:17:48
7th Ramey Smyth, 44:18:16
8th Scott Smith, 44:26:56
9th Martin Buser, 44:41:16
10th Mike Williams Jr., 45:07:39
11th Pete Kaiser, 45:09:44
12th Ray Redington Jr., 45:44:44
13th Ken Anderson, 48:34:25
14th Louie Ambrose, 49:32:01
15th Mike Williams Sr., 50:18:03