Why choose Jeff? Nic Petit describes process of finding replacement musher

The first musher reaches the halfway point in the 50th running of the Iditarod, and we get a look at the trail that's been beating up sleds along the Burn.
Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 5:59 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Musher Nic Petit described Tuesday how he decided on Jeff King to mush his dog team to Nome in this year’s Iditarod after he tested positive for COVID-19. The musher spoke with Iditarod Inside host Greg Heister from his home in Big Lake.

But first, he described his COVID symptoms.

“I was feeling a little weird and coughing a little bit,” Petit said, explaining why he decided to take a test.

He said the next couple of days were rough, and that it felt like the flu, but didn’t last as long.

“My ears were feeling swollen and full of liquid or something,” he said, “Just every day was a different thing, but I’m feeling fine now and wish I was on the trail.”

Petit, who finished second in 2018 and has been in the lead pack numerous times, said his team was prepared for Iditarod and in good shape. Some were Iditarod veterans and others were not.

“When Jeff was looking at them he could only say ‘they’re just so nice.’ In every way,” Petit said. “In performance and attitude, and they’re nice to each other, they’re nice to people. They’re just a really easy group to run.”

He did say that his team is made up of finnicky eaters, something King alluded to in Rainy Pass on Tuesday.

“I’m going to lean pretty heavily towards being conservative with rest and figuring out how to feed them in a way that keeps them stuffed,” King described. He said the dogs were well-fed when he took the team on.

Heister asked Petit why he chose to find another musher for his team instead of withdrawing all together. Petit said dog mushing isn’t about only what dogs can do for mushers.

“We train for what I call a yearly migration,” he explained. “It’s not about what the dog wants to do for us, it’s about what we can provide for the dog so that the dog can do what it wants to do, which is run all the way over there (to Nome).”

He said that’s a philosophy he and King share.

Petit said he did call other mushers, but as soon as he called King and found out he was interested, he was pretty sure it would be King, even though there are plenty of other experienced mushers out there.

King had been racing this season too, another bonus.

“It’s not like we’re pulling him off the couch,” Petit said. “He was looking at his team going (to Nome with rookie handler Amanda Otto) slightly envious. I felt there was a good chance he’d say yes.”

Another main reason that Petit handed the runners over to King is his team’s style.

“Not everyone can deal with a dog team full of no neck lines,” he said, describing a line that links the front of a sled dog’s harness to the tow line, keeping them facing forward. “That’s like an acquired taste and 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 neck line on all my dogs, so finding Jeff was a good fit for many reasons, including that reason.”

Petit said that since it was Iditarod time, he had help around his kennel while he was sick, and he took some down time, but that he was going stir crazy a bit. While he’s usually being watched on the Iditarod GPS tracker, this year he said he’s watching, but has no idea who’s leading.

“I’m just lookin at what’s going on with Jeff,” he said, noting that the rest and run notations of the tracker aren’t always accurate. “It’s kind of a stressful thing to look at.”

He joked with Heister, saying, “I guess if there was a 911 call you’d tell me about it, right?”

Petit said he’s trying to get to Nome for the finish once he’s past his COVID-19 isolation period.

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