Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Dustin Cook

MADE IT! – Defending Yukon Quest champion Matt Hall crosses the checkpoint line in Dawson City this morning, less than an hour after Paige Drobny did.

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Photo by Dustin Cook

CHOW TIME – Paige Drobny’s dogs are fed a snack from a handler upon their arrival in Dawson City this morning.

Drobny, Hall lead frigid chase into Dawson

The chase pack began to arrive in Dawson early this morning led by veteran musher Paige Drobny.

By Dustin Cook on February 8, 2018

DAWSON CITY – The chase pack began to arrive in Dawson early this morning led by veteran musher Paige Drobny.

She and her 13-member dog team out of Squid Acres Kennel arrived at 4:21 a.m. local time after a bit of an extended break at the Clinton Creek hospitality stop.

“I didn’t like the way that they looked coming into Clinton Creek, and rather than just push on and come here for the 36, I’d rather stay there and make sure that they came here looking good,” Drobny said.

The break worked wonders for the team that left the stop shortly after defending champion Matt Hall, but passed him a short way into the 54-mile trek.

“As soon as I left there I was like, ‘Oh, that was the right decision. They look really good,’” she said.

Leaving Clinton Creek at around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday – around the same time Allen Moore arrived in Dawson – Drobny and her team travelled throughout the night in brisk temperatures.

“I couldn’t see anything. I felt like I was in chicken soup or something,” Drobny said.

“We could smell wood smoke for what seemed like an eternity. These guys thought we were there, like, hours ago.”

In her fourth Quest, the Ester, Alaska native said she will be spending the 36 hours sleeping and eating.

“Two things I haven’t done in the last five days, or however many days I’ve been out here,” she said.

Temperatures have dipped to -40 – making it easier to follow for all fans without the need of conversion between Celsius and Fahrenheit.

Drobny said she hasn’t really been feeling the cold, but knows it is impacting the dogs.

“Is it cold? I didn’t notice,” Drobny said with a chuckle.

“I actually haven’t been cold, but I feel bad for the dogs, watching them sleep outside. I know it’s cold, but I can dress for it. We can only put so much stuff on the dogs.”

After a rough ride after crossing the border into Clinton Creek, Drobny was happy with the way her dogs bounced back on the run into Dawson, and is confident for the second half of the race.

“They’re doing great. I had one bad turn out of I don’t know how many I’ve done so far. I stayed a little bit longer and now they look great and happy again.”

And led by Tahoe, off they went to the dog yard.

Just 50 minutes after Drobny, race officials and fans had another reason to leave the warmth of the checkpoint with Hall pulling into the Dawson checkpoint with his full team.

The 26-year-old from Two Rivers, Alaska crossed the checkpoint with his team at 5:11 a.m. local time. He said they are looking forward to the 36-hour layover.

“Spending the next couple of hours getting these guys taken care of with what they need, bedded down, sleeping cozy buried in straw, and then I’m going to go to sleep and not set an alarm clock and see how long I could sleep,” Hall said after crossing the checkpoint. “Kind of a contest.”

The trek down from Clinton Creek was a bit chilly for the 26-year-old musher and his team facing a headwind the whole run.

“It was definitely a little colder than I expected it to be. There was a headwind the whole way,” Hall said.

Earlier in the race, heading into Eagle, Hall started dealing with frostbite on his fingers, but said they’re going to make it and it hasn’t affected him.

“I probably won’t even feel it until after the race,” he said.

In the 2017 race, Hall was the third musher to arrive in Dawson before making up the deficit to win in Fairbanks. He reached the checkpoint fewer than six hours behind Brent Sass, who ended up withdrawing from the race.

But this year, with five Quest rookies on his team and new leaders, Hall said he is happy with where they are.

“We’ll see if we can hold where we’re at this year,” Hall said of the game plan for the second half of the race.

“This year, we’ve had to work with some leader issues, a couple of little dings that’s taken lots of massaging and lots of time.

“These guys are ready to rock and roll, but we don’t have the front-end power.

“I don’t think we’ll be making up five hours and 45 minutes like we did last year out of the halfway point. We’ll see; you never know.

“It’s still a race, we’ll just do what we can do.”

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