BETHEL, Alaska (KTUU) - Peter Kaiser has long visualized the day he would win the Iditarod. What he didn’t think about was the days and weeks following his being crowned champion.
“We're trying to soak this all in, day by day,” he said.
Kaiser arrived in Bethel to a frenetic crowd at the local airport on Monday. Along with many friends and family members, he was greeted by throngs of fans and even escorted home by the local fire department.
“There’s a lot of people that helped me get to this point,” Kaiser said. “They had good reason to be excited, but it's just been over the top. It's more than I even would've imagined, which is fun.
“It’s great,” he said. “Any time you can bring that positive energy to a place like Bethel, and this region, it's a good thing.”
Days after his return, paper signs with sayings such as “UnPeteAble” and “King of the Kuskokwim” scrawled on them sway in the wind. What will last much longer than those, though, is the legacy Kaiser has already cemented in history as the first Yup’ik winner of the Last Great Race on Earth.
“I never allowed myself to think, ‘I got this won,’ at any moment,” Kaiser said, “until I was just about to the arch there in Nome. So I knew [runner-up Joar Leifseth Ulsom] was trying to close on me strong, and he was a great, fierce competitor. Very glad it worked out with the big crowd that was there.”
The celebrations continued throughout the week, with a massive crowd gathering Friday evening to honor the musher at the local cultural center in Bethel. People from around the state gathered to meet, greet, and hear from the newly-crowned Iditarod champion.
“It’s a big thing for us,” said Bethel resident Lucinda Alexie. “He gets to represent people from this area.”
Both near and far, many complimented Kaiser’s undeniable determination to be an ambassador of the sport and role model representative of his hometown.
“People can relate to him,” said Elizabeth Betz, who now lives in Bethel but spent decades in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta before that. “They know him, he's one of them, and one of us. And if he can do it, our kids can do it, too.”
Those who long known Kaiser also sang his praises at the event, which included presentations from various speakers and a question and answer session with the musher himself.
“It tells a lot of people that either in dog racing or anything else, if they really get after it, they have a chance at succeeding,” said Myron Angstman, who founded the Kuskokwim 300. Kaiser won that race four times in a row from 2015 through 2018.
As for what’s next, Kaiser said he’s ready for some down time after working his full-time construction job and then going straight into training his dog team.
“We've been going hard now for 11 months, since work started last May, construction into dog mushing, this whole season,” he said. “So there are some chores around the yard that have been neglected, and maybe we’ll do some family stuff, take a little vacation if we can. A lot of that gets pushed to the side when you're doing training and racing like this.”