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Francesca on the Trail

Francesca Fenzi
Francesca Fenzi. Photo: David Dodman, KNOM.

It was an adventure that she describes as one of the most incredible highlights of her year of service.

In April, news volunteer Francesca Fenzi (pictured above, in Nome) hit the trail for a sled dog race that happens relatively late in the year. Compared with the Iditarod, about which we wrote last month, the race Francesca covered is somewhat less “on the radar” — both for the annals of this newsletter and, likely, for most sled dog fans from the Lower 48 — but it’s no less a shining example of what makes our region so special. Indeed, this race offers a look at rural Alaska that even the Iditarod may not.

The Kobuk 440 (KOH-buck) Sled Dog Race begins and concludes in the Arctic city of Kotzebue (COT-suh-byoo), Alaska, about 180 miles northeast of Nome and just past the northern fringes of KNOM’s listening range.

Kotzebue and Nome have close ties, not only because they’re among the most significant hub cities of the Alaskan Bush (in company with the cities of Barrow and Bethel), but also because they share much of the same heritage — especially with regards to Alaska Native culture.

With the region’s strong traditional ties to sled dog mushing, it’s no surprise that some of the same mushers who arrived in Nome in March as finishers of the Iditarod appeared in Kotzebue several weeks later as competitors of the Kobuk 440. Thanks to an ongoing “tradeout” sponsorship with a regional airline, Francesca was there, too; she was able to fly for free to Kotzebue and then to several checkpoints along the Kobuk 440 trail. Over a long weekend, she sent back news stories for our on-air broadcasts (like this one) and posted updates and ample photos to this website.

The race pictures above show a side of rural Alaska very indicative of the region — and of its people, landscape, and culture — that your support allows us to serve. Captions, clockwise from top left: musher Jeff King traverses the Kobuk 440 trail between the checkpoints of Shungnak (SHUUNG-knack) and Kobuk; eventual Kobuk 440 champion Cim Smyth, his beard and jacket encrusted in snow, in the Ambler checkpoint; a similarly snow-encrusted dog in Ambler; past Iditarod champion Jeff King with his team in Shungnak; two residents of Ambler, one seated on a snowmachine (or snowmobile).

As always, thanks so much for helping us send volunteers like Francesca to bring back stories from some of the most incredible, rural corners of Western Alaska. In many cases, your support bridges the difference between these stories being told… or not at all.

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Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that KNOM Radio Mission is located on the customary lands of Indigenous peoples. 

Based in the Bering Strait region, KNOM broadcasts throughout the homelands of the Iñupiaq, Siberian Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Yup’ik peoples.