Extreme happiness to almost weeping: BG native completes Iditarod


From adventuring in north Clark County to crossing the Alaskan wilderness on a sled pulled by dogs, Lara Kittelson doesn’t shy away from a challenge.

Kittelson completed the Iditarod on March 14, after just over 11 days traversing the Alaskan wilderness with her team of sled dogs. She crossed into Nome, Alaska, 23rd out of 29 finishers.

Kittelson was raised near Yacolt but considers Battle Ground as her hometown, which was highlighted on her Iditarod musher profile. She said a lot of credit goes to her parents for her adventurous spirit. A lot of hiking and utilizing the outdoors as her playpen is what ultimately built up to “the last great race” as Kittelson’s greatest adventure to date. But it was a Disney movie, “Eight Below,” that led her to fully commit to dog mushing, she said.

The Iditarod takes sled dog teams and mushers over 1,000 miles across rough terrain from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. They brave the harsh weather conditions and landscape in a test of endurance, skill and bonding.

The race is a re-creation of the route Leonhard Seppala utilized to deliver lifesaving serum to battle diphtheria from Nenana to Nome in 1925.

Kittelson moved to Alaska after graduating from homeschooling in Clark County. She was first exposed to sled dogs while she worked at a dog kennel in Seward, Alaska, as the yearling trainer.

“The crazy, goofy yearlings and I learned right alongside as they grew up. Fast forward a few years, a few qualifying races, and the opportunity to run the Iditarod has arrived,” Kittelson’s Iditarod bio states. “It is a dream come true to explore the Iditarod trail with pups I’ve known since they were little tater tots.”

Kittelson completed the Iditarod with a team of mostly two-year old sled dogs. She ran with the team throughout the season leading up to the Iditarod, which helped increase the team’s bond.

“There were a couple of older dogs mixed in, a couple of 4-year-olds,” Kittelson said. “And now those 4-year-olds were the yearlings from my first year. And the 2-year-olds, there’s a good lot of them that were the offspring of a 4-year-old. So, I got to take the whole family out.”

It was hard for Kittelson to pick out a single favorite moment from the dog sled race, but numerous moments compiled to make outstanding memories.

Way out on the trail, Kittleson said, a man provided her a great meal.

“There were crowds of people camped out on the side of the trail, little kids running up to the edge to it so you can slap their hand as you go by and they toss out candy. One gentleman way out on the trail, he and his family had a fire and he just called out to me, ‘Are you hungry?’ and I said, ‘yeah,’ and he brings out a bowl of chili,” Kittelson said. “So I’m going down the trail eating a bowl of chili. So, that was fun.”

After surviving the wilderness, witnessing the Northern Lights, conquering the technical portions of the trail, the feeling of crossing into Nome to the finish line made her feel emotional.

“It went through stages of just extreme happiness to almost weeping,” Kittelson said as she recalled looking at her dogs that traversed 1,000 miles with her. “... I saw a trooper, and he must have signaled somebody. He’s out there, took a picture and it’s a mile out from [Nome] and the fire siren goes off, and that’s how they tell everybody there’s a musher one mile out. And that was just an amazing feeling — hearing that siren go off and then we come into Nome … There’s a trooper in front flashing his lights, and the trooper moved aside and I see the finish line, and it was just such an amazing sight.”