After the Sheep Mountain 150 was cancelled due to lack of snow, the Alaska Excursions 120 was the first mid-distance race of the season. The first running of that race attracted mushers from all over the state. For the two heats of almost 50 miles (why are most distance races shorter than they are advertised?) mushers gathered from Nenana—Rick Mackey and Allen Miller, local mushers from the Valley such as Rayme and his boys Ryan and Ray Redington, Cim Smith, last minute sign up Martin Buser and a whole convoy from Kasilof that included mushers Paul Gebhardt, Jason Mackey and 3 generations of Osmars: Dean, Tim and Merissa.The Alaska Excursions 120 was organized by Erin and Ryan Redington, who was also a favorite to win this race. Ryan is a feared musher on races with short back to back heats. Other teams with a good shot to compete for 1st place are his brother Ray Redington, Cim Smith, Martin Buser, Jason Mackey, Debbie Moderow and Dean Osmar. Rumors have it that Paul Gebhardt has the fastest team from the Kenai Peninsula this year. Asked about that he just grinned and said: “Yes, my team is fast!, I’m pretty happy with my dogs.”Cim Smith didn’t leave a doubt about why he showed up in this race. “He will compete to win this race!”Three days prior to the race the sky finally released its much needed white flakes of winter joy. The new snow ensured a smooth trail around Knik and Big Lake, Alaska areas. December 19th, 8 o’clock everybody gathered at the Big Lake Aurora Mushers Hall for the race meeting. Martin Buser was already in the spirit of Christmas and wore a red Santa hat.Ryan explained the well marked trail and all of the 41 mushers were able to choose 10 dogs out of a 12 dog pool for the two days of racing. Some mushers use this race to push and test their dogs a little, others as an organized training run, to gain experience for unproven dogs and for themselves. Rick Mackey, brother to Lance Mackey and a Yukon Quest and Iditarod champion himself, appeared again on the race circuit after a five year absence. He took his middle aged dogs to this event for their experience and Rick left it open as to whether we’ll see him making a comeback, competing in the big races. “Anything is possible” he stated.The race started in -15 below temperatures and a chilly breeze. The teams started in the order they signed up. The three junior mushers Meredith Mapes, Merissa Osmar and Isla Schwarzburg took off right behind the last adult musher.The new trail became soft fast after 41 teams blasted over it and caused some difficulties for teams that haven’t seen much snow this entire season. As usual in the beginning of a race there was a lot of passing going on. Towards the end of the first heat, about 10 miles to the finish, Ryan Redington was leading closely followed by Paul Gebhardt. So the rumors were right and Paul was having a pretty strong run. In pursuit, were Ray Redington, Cim Smith, Dean Osmar and his second team driven by Shaynee Seipke. Martin Buser, who started in 34th position passed 28 teams that put him into 6th overall and allowed him to leave the starting line in 6st position the next day. Times for day one: 1st Ryan Redington with a time of 3 hours and 44 minutes, 2nd Paul Gebhardt 3:46, 3rd Ray Redington 3:49, 4th Cim Smith 3:49, 5th Dean Osmar 3:59, 6th Martin Buser 4:04, 7th Shaynee Seipke 4:05, 8th Raymie Redingtion 4:09, 9th Jason Mackey 4:10, 10th Kristi Berington 4:14On the morning of the 2nd day the race order started with the fastest team first. Leader Ryan Redington was not confident that he would be able to defend 1st position throughout the second run. The other top competitors chose not to evaluate their teams and wanted to see how their dogs would react during the run. The outcome of this race was far from being decided. It warmed up to 5 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun was shining on the mushers and their eager dog teams. The trail settled up harder than on the previous day and allowed for a little easier pulling. The teams roared down the trail to see who would be the fastest.The chance of defending 1st place for Ryan was over quickly after he had to load a dog into his sled after the first 10 miles. Less dog power and more weight to pull made it hard to keep his pursuers in check. None the less he didn’t give up and worked and raced hard the whole way with his dogs.The race was on and about 8 miles from the finish line the first 7 teams were only 10 minutes apart from each other. Anything could still happen. Cim Smith, just standing on the runners, was leading the pack with a flying dog team chased by a ski-poling Paul Gebhardt whose dogs pulled hard and steady. Only ¼ of a mile seperated those teams. It was the brothers Ray and Ryan Redington who fought within sight of each other about eight minutes behind the leaders. On their heels was the smooth traveling dog team of Dean Osmar, sitting down on his sled, he took it easy. Saying he drank tea and ate cookies the whole way. He was followed by Martin Buser and Jason Mackey who passed each other back and forth.Despite loading a dog on the last five miles, it was Cim who was able to shave off over 10 minutes (3:39) of his 1st day time to take home $2,210 and 1st place. Only 3 minutes behind in the over all standings finished Paul (3:44, $1,547) with a strong and steady run. Ray (3:59, $884) was able to stay in 3rd followed by Dean (3:58, $608) and Rayan (4:14, $276) in 4th and 5th place. The first 5 ranks payed a purse of $5,525 and they all had an over all time under 8 hours.The top ten ended up: 6th Martin Buser 4:02, 7th Jason Mackey 3:58, 8th Shaynee Seipke 4:06, 9th Debbie Moderow 4:02, 10th Kristi Berington 4:11, Merissa Osmar won the Junior divison and finished 17th overall. Only 8 minutes behind her placed Meredith Mapes, finishing 22nd overall. At the after race meeting, Erin Redington thanked the Big Lake Aurora Dog Mushers Club and the many great volunteers that made the race possible.Kelly Griffin, with her trademark sense of humor, warned other local mushers to withdraw prior to the race because they might end up becoming a race marshall over night. The style of the race was relaxed and easy going. For many mushers it was the first time of the season to visit with their mushing friends and competitors. Martin Busers handlers Sean Williams and Magnus Kaltenborg also ran the race. Sean who finished overall in 15th place was not bummed about being the slowest team out of Happy Trail Kennels: “I might be third in the Happy Trails team but I look the best!” Well, see for yourself and check for more video coverage of that race on the race was a great success, with happy mushers and organizers. Next year the raceses goal is, together with their sponsor Alaska Excursions, to make the event annual and attracat mushers with a bigger purse.


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