Nicolas Petit, the 'dirtbag ski bum' musher from France, shares his story

Nicolas Petit speaks with KTUU at the Rainy Pass checkpoint on the Iditarod trail, March 5, 2018.
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Taking third in last year's Iditarod, and currently in second place in this year's race, Nicolas Petit is a musher who has been living in Alaska since the 90's, and took a shine to mushing within the past decade.

According to the man himself, Petit says he's often categorized, even in his own eyes, as a "dirtbag ski bum" musher.

"I started running dogs kind of like how a ski bum would go skiing. 'You got some dogs? You need some help? Sure,'" Petit told KTUU at the Rainy Pass checkpoint.

Petit, 36, grew up in Normandy, France. He was the Rookie of the Year in the 2011 Iditarod, coming in at 28th place. That year, Petit said, was a beautiful run, and called the rookie award "the icing on the cake."

Originally that year, however, he hadn't planned on running the Iditarod at all, something that makes his "dirtbag ski bum" origin pretty believable. Instead, it was Petit's mushing mentor who, after an injury, allowed Petit to compete.

"Jim Lanier. My rookie year. I was helping him out and his hip blew out while I was helping him, because, he was 72, and things like that happen," Petit said at the checkpoint on Monday. "So I took his team and did the Iditarod and it worked out pretty good. [Lanier] told me I did better than he ever does. But I just followed his instruction.

"He said, 'Stay away from the back of the pack, because of sour dogs, you know or dog fights, or bacteria. There's a lot of bacteria this year. I saw it at the start, there's a lot of it. So you get out front, away from all those, get to park by yourself, works out good--thank you Jim Lanier, for the good pointer," Petit said.

Petit said his father is in Alaska to watch him race. "He's digging it, he's here this year," Petit said.

Of his family, Petit said he was always the outdoorsy one. "They're not really that outdoorsy. I mean they're not against the outdoors by any means, but I'm the one that's outside all the time. I always was," Petit said. "When I was growing up, I didn't want to go to school so much, so I'd go play outside."

According to Petit, he wasn't really well known in his native France for mushing, until last year he was featured in a French mushing video, which brought him some notoriety there.

"I haven't been to France in 15, 20 years, but I got a copy of the video," Petit said. "As long as I'm 'big time' to my family and friends, then that's awesome."