FAIRBANKS - Victoria Hardwick, a rookie from Washington state who now lives in Bethel, is the 39th and final musher to cross under the burled arch marking the end of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome.
Hardwick, 30, finished the race at 1:51 p.m. Monday with nine dogs. Fifty-two mushers started the race at Willow on March 3. Pete Kaiser of Bethel won the race early Wednesday, March 13. He is the first Yup'ik Iditarod champion.
Twelve mushers scratched and one was withdrawn when a dog in his team died two days after finishing the race. It's an unusually high percentage of scratches for the Iditarod, which traveled along the southern route through the ghost town of Iditarod. Miles of the trail lacked snow over bumpy tussocks or was covered with water, as along a stretch of the Yukon River. Storms cleared out much of the sea ice along the Bering Sea coast, and the trail was routed overland, where high winds drifted this winter's heavy snows.
Nic Petit, the front-runner for much of the race and the 2018 runner-up, scratched after his dogs refused to run over the sea ice outside of Shaktoolik. Last year's champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom and Kaiser took the lead, with Kaiser finishing only 12 minutes ahead of Leifseth Ulsom.
During Sunday night's finish banquet in Nome, the finishers were honored and the following prizes were given out:
Petit won beaver mittens and a mushers hat for being the first musher to McGrath, as well as a five-course gourmet dinner and $3,500 for being the first to reach the Yukon River. Petit also won $3,500 and a hand-carved ivory dog team for being the first to reach the Bering Sea coast at Unalakleet.
Kaiser, who won the race in nine days, 12 hours and 39 minutes, won about $51,000 and a new Dodge Ram truck valued at about $40,000. Kaiser also received $2,000 and 25 pounds of salmon for being the first musher to Kaltag, as well as $2,500 and artwork for being the first to reach White Mountain. His lead dog, Morrow, won the golden harness award.
Two Rivers musher Aliy Zirkle finished fourth overall. She also was the first to reach the halfway point at Iditarod, winning $3,000 in gold nuggets. Zirkle was awarded the Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award for outstanding dog care, the fifth time she has won the honor.
Yukon musher Ed Hopkins was named rookie of the year and four-time champ Lance Mackey was voted most inspirational. Aaron Peck won the Herbie Nayokpuk award for his upbeat attitude along the trail and Mats Pettersson the sportsmanship award for helping another musher track down a loose dog team.
Paige Drobny was honored as the "most improved" musher. The Ester musher placed seventh, and was one of three female mushers in the top 10, the first time that has happened in the Iditarod. The other two are Jessie Royer, who finished third, and Zirkle, in fourth.
A dog, Oshi, in the team of Two Rivers rookie Richie Beattie died two days after finishing the race. According to race rules, Beattie was officially withdrawn from the race.