Musher to explore reasons for summit drama
It was no sophomore slump, but Jake Berkowitz said his 2013 Yukon Quest run was definitely a learning experience.
Photo by Marcel Vander Wier
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED – Brent Sass, left, and Jake Berkowitz share a laugh over a beer last night after crossing the Yukon Quest finish line in Fairbanks. Sass’s team crossed the line at 5:49 p.m. to finish third, while Berkowitz clocked in at 7:03 p.m. To take fourth.
FAIRBANKS – It was no sophomore slump, but Jake Berkowitz said his 2013 Yukon Quest run was definitely a learning experience.
Last yearʼs rookie of the year crossed the finish line in Fairbanks at 7:03 p.m. Monday to earn his second straight fourth-place finish.
Brent Sass had entered Fairbanks at 5:49 p.m. to win third – his highest placing in seven Quests.
Sass was on hand to greet Berkowitz with a cold beer as he came in. The two embraced at the finish line before addressing the media together.
“The race was definitely a learning experience for us, as I think every race is a learning experience,” Berkowitz said. “Weʼre going to take what we learned here and go forward with it.”
Berkowitz said the race was beneficial for his teamʼs four two-year-old dogs, and he hopes it pays off in the future.
He also said he would not run the Quest in 2014, due to “other plans.”
Berkowitz did not elaborate, but he and his wife, Robin, are expecting their first child.
The 26-year-old musher referred to himself as a “pencil pusher” at one point in the race due to the strictness with which he followed the race plan he had pencilled out. He said he may need to look at revamping his strategy in future races.
“Listening to the dogs” is always a winning strategy, Berkowitz said.
“Iʼve said the whole race weʼre looking at the future and the career of these dogs,” he said. “I couldnʼt be happier. Fourth place is fourth place, and these dogs loping in to the finish line is dogs loping in after 1,000 miles.
“Weʼre always here to win, and when we donʼt, we take happiness in other things. Right now, itʼs the dogs. Weʼll be back and weʼll be back to win.”
On Sunday morning, Sass played hero on Eagle Summit, dragging Berkowitzʼs team up the steep slope after finding his competitor had stalled out on the mountainside.
Berkowitz said he will go back to the drawing board to try to understand what happened to his sled dog team on the 1,123-metre summit.
“Weʼve kind of got to figure out why that happened at that point in the race, and why they excelled the next night in even tougher conditions,” he said.
The blustery weather on the ensuing mountain – 1,109-metre Rosebud Summit – was a challenge his team overcame with flying colours, Berkowitz told reporters.
“That was actually one of the most challenging runs Iʼve been on,” he said. “It was really difficult ... and the dogs did incredible. I think they were kind of embarrassed by their showing on Eagle Summit.”
Sass said the explanation for Berkowitzʼs team turnaround is simple, and it comes down to the attitude of the man behind the sled.
“Jake had the most positive attitude on Eagle Summit, and it just goes right back into the dogs,” said the 33-year-old Eureka musher.
“When you donʼt get bummed out when something goes wrong, and you keep positive ... they just learned from that experience.”
Quest rookie Scott Smith took fifth place early this morning, entering Fairbanks at 3:55.
The 43-year-old from Willow, Alaska was considered a darkhorse to win earlier in the race.
Smith was the first rookie to finish this year’s Quest. That means he will receive the Rookie of the Year Award.
Berkowitzʼs B-team handler Markus Ingebretsen is expected to cross the finish line early this afternoon in sixth place.
Whitehorse musher Normand Casavant is expected to follow shortly after. Casavant will be the first Yukon musher to finish the 2013 Quest.
Fellow Whitehorse musher Susan Rogan is currently in ninth.
However, she will need to serve an hour’s time penalty after failing to provide her mandatory vet book and promotional item – an autographed pair of booties – at the Eagle checkpoint.
Rogan was also fined $250 for the mistake.
With Fort McMurray, Alta. musher Randy MacKenzie and Willowʼs Misha Pedersen filing their scratch forms in Dawson City over the weekend, Yellowknife musher Dyan Bergen is the early favourite for this yearʼs Red Lantern award, given to the last-place musher.
Allen Moore won the Quest Monday morning, while Hugh Neff took second place.