‘Like the good ol’ days’: Jeff King leads Nic Petit’s dogs through McGrath

Jeff King, who did not sign up for this year's Iditarod, has found himself on the trail anyway leading the dog team of Nic Petit.
Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 10:07 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - If you follow the Iditarod in any capacity, you’ve likely heard of Jeff King, the four-time Iditarod champion, who in 2020 faced health issues that led to his handler taking over his team just before Iditarod 48 started.

Bowing out that year, and never registering for the 2022 edition of the Iditarod, few expected to see King in the McGrath checkpoint for the 50th running of the race — and with someone else’s dog team.

However, just a few days before this year’s ceremonial start, fellow veteran Nic Petit “was in a pickle,” as he put it, the same way King was two years ago.

Petit had found out he’d tested positive for COVID-19, and had a decision to make.

So he called King, who operates the Husky Homestead kennel in Denali. King agreed to step in, and lead Petit’s dogs down the Iditarod Trail.

“There’s plenty of very qualified, experienced mushers out there, but not everyone can deal with a dog team full of no neck lines,” Petit explained to Iditarod Insider this week. “and that’s, like, an acquired taste. I’ve seen Jeff do it a little bit here and there, but there’s plenty of great mushers that wouldn’t dream of driving a team without a neckline, and I wouldn’t dream of putting a neckline on all my dogs.

“Finding Jeff was a good fit for many reasons,” he continued. “Even when Jeff was looking at them, all he could say was, ‘They’re just so nice, in every way, performance, and attitude, and they’re nice to each other, they’re nice to people.’”

On Wednesday, King started his several hours at the McGrath checkpoint with the usual straw and feeding, including chicken and kibble, both prepared cold, since temperatures have been noticeably high along the trail.

“These guys are just so friendly with one another,” King pointed out, speaking of Petit’s dogs while tending to them in the McGrath checkpoint on Wednesday. “Mine are friendly, but these are different. They are different. I need to take a minute to figure out what it is … They’ve got their own personality, that’s for sure.”

King, wearing bib No. 3 in place of Petit, said he’d suffered a couple of sprains and other challenges on the trail up until McGrath. Wednesday, he said, was an improvement.

“This is a lot better than yesterday,” King said. “Yesterday was rough, crashing and burning. But today is really nice.

“The trail is like the good ol’ days,” he continued, adding that his experience thus far has gone as he expected. “It’s nice not to be in quite as big of a hurry, so that’s different.”

Petit had apparently warned King that his team could be finicky eaters – “a bit of extra work,” he said – but King also had a message for Petit on Wednesday.

“Really nice dog team, Nic,” King said. “And Shoobie and Minnie are really exceptional. Robert got a sore wrist that wasn’t going to go away, but the rest of the team are awesome. So, I’m takin’ good care of them.”

King left McGrath with the 13 dogs he brought in, departing around 5:40 p.m. on Wednesday. As of press time, he was in 17th place based on the Iditarod’s online leaderboard.

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