Kobuk 440, the last major mid-distance race of the year, is now underway

Kobuk 440 teams kick off the last distance race of the mushing season
Published: Apr. 6, 2023 at 8:08 PM AKDT
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KOTZEBUE, Alaska (KTUU) - Every spring since 1988 —and excluding 2020 —the distance dog mushing season culminates with the Kobuk 440 in Western Alaska. The historic race has featured winners like mushing legends Susan Butcher (1989, 1990), Jeff King (1994, 2003, 2013, 2014), Martin Buser (2007) and reigning Iditarod champion Ryan Redington (2019, 2021).

At 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, 12 teams with 12 dogs each left Kotzebue in a mass start to begin the 440-mile journey.

Reigning Kobuk 440 champion Hugh Neff returns to defend his title, while 2023 top five Iditarod finishers Richie Diehl and Jessie Holmes (2017 Kobuk 440 champion) will contend for the title.

Iditarod veterans Michelle Phillips, Jeff Deeter and recent rookie-turned-veteran Bailey Vitello will also be in the mix.

Martin Early, who learned under the guidance of King, will be competing in his second Kobuk 440, while Seattle native and Tok resident Jim Bourquin is also taking another crack at it. Lauro Eklund, a Yukon Quest 200, 300 and 550 finisher, is a rookie in this race, as well as Jessi Downey, who grew up in Noatak upriver from Kotzebue.

This is a home race for the likes of Kotzebue native Kevin Hansen and 11-time Kobuk 440 finisher Dempsey Woods Sr., who has been running dogs along the Kobuk River most of his life.

Bib #Name
1Jessi Downey
2Richie Diehl
3Michelle Phillips
4Bailey Vitello
5Hugh Neff
6Jeff Deeter
7Jessie Holmes
8Jim Bourquin
9Kevin Hansen
10Lauro Eklund
11Martin Early
12Dempsey Woods Sr.

After taking off from Kotzebue, teams will make their way to the Noorvik checkpoint before heading up to Kiana, Ambler, Shungnak and the halfway point of Kobuk. On the return route, teams will stop in Shungnak, Ambler, then to Selawik before the Kotzebue finish.

Teams are required to take a minimum of 20 hours of rest along the trail and rest will only be counted at checkpoints.

Live tracking of the 2023 Kobuk 440 can be followed here.