Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by John Tonin

TAKING A MOMENT – Rob Cooke holds his two leaders Arseface, front, and Whizz after reaching the Yukon Quest finish line at Shipyards Park at 9:07 a.m. Saturday with a whole team of 14.

Musher battled overflow woes to finish Quest

Local veteran Rob Cooke was the penultimate finisher of the 37th Yukon Quest.

By John Tonin on February 17, 2020

Local veteran Rob Cooke was the penultimate finisher of the 37th Yukon Quest.

Arriving at 9:07 Saturday morning, Cooke had all 14 of his Siberian huskies still on line. It was the first time he has completed the race with a full team.

He is a popular figure in the sport, and the fans were out on the sunny morning to greet him. His dogs appeared to enjoy all the people around. They jumped and yipped to everyone’s delight.

Cooke said the demanding trail conditions of the later stages of the race made this the toughest of the seven Yukon Quests he’s run.

From Carmacks and after Braeburn is when the race became very difficult for him, he said.

“We had problems between Carmacks and Braeburn,” said Cooke. “We got caught on the lakes. Leaving Braeburn, the trail was pretty good, but when we left our camping spot … I got cocky, then the Quest kicks you in the ass.

“We got onto the Takhini, hit a couple patches of overflow, then the whole world fell apart. One of the worst situations I’ve been in. I’m just glad we got out of it and the race was accommodating.”

About 10 miles outside of Muktuk Adventures, Cooke said, he was hoping they would be out on the river to give him a hand.

“We hit significant overflow,” said Cooke. “All of us were swimming in it. I was about 10 miles out of Muktuk, I thought they’d be out on the river.

“As we were getting closer, my boots were full of water and I could feel them going numb.

“I didn’t think at that point I could safely make a 20-mile run to Whitehorse. I needed to have the dogs looked at and didn’t think I could make it to Whitehorse.”

Cooke praised Quest officials and veterinarians for travelling to Muktuk to check on him and the team. He wanted to get in touch with officials because he didn’t want Olivia Shank-Neff, the only musher behind him, to get stuck in the same situation.

On that treacherous journey from Braeburn to Whitehorse, Cooke said, his team rose to the challenge.

“All 14 stepped up certainly leaving Braeburn,” said Cooke. “All 14 were pulling hard.

“I think some of the younger dogs at times had been shellshocked. It’s taught me about the huge amount about the difference between experienced dogs and young dogs.

“The young dogs have learned a lot and they will be better for it for whatever races we do in the future.”

Aside from being tough physically, Cooke said mentally, this race was demanding.

“This one was so slow and so demoralizing,” said Cooke. “I didn’t mind the cold; we prefer the cold. When we hit the snow, that really did make things tough. I just found myself wanting to be somewhere else, get to the next place.”

It was his dogs that always snapped him back into focus.

“They’ve been super-happy the whole race they really have,” said Cooke.

“They keep me happy, and they keep me going and keep me motivated. They really are a pleasure to be on the trail with. They love running so much.”

At the finish, Cooke said his appendages were starting to feel better.

“Everything held up OK,” said Cooke. “I’ve used hundreds of hand-warmers; I don’t usually use hand-warmers, just to keep the tips of my fingers OK.”

Cooke, a candid and introspective musher, was asked if he would ever write a book about the Quest, and if so, what would the title be?

“I’ve thought about it in the past, I guess,” said Cooke. “I’d probably try and steal something from James Herriot and maybe it should be (called) ‘It shouldn’t happen to a Brit.’

“I’m getting old now, and starting to forget a lot; maybe I should start writing. So much happens every year. There are so many stories to tell. Then there are things about the race itself – the people you meet on the race.

“You have the chats with different people out on the trail; those are things people will never see or will understand.

“Those are things that really bring people back to the Quest.”

See related coverage, this website.

Comments (3)

Up 2 Down 0

A face without an arse on Feb 19, 2020 at 4:50 pm

Anyone who names one of his lead dogs ‘arseface’ is fine in my book. And I would indeed buy his biography , James Herriot or notwithstanding. Indeed it shouldn’t happen to a Brit , but at least you don’t have to go through life answering to the call ‘arseface’. Love it !

Up 7 Down 0

Marcel Brabant on Feb 18, 2020 at 10:59 am

Having Siberian huskies I know what he means about how you can always count on them to pick up your spirits. Well done! I am very happy you are in and safe.

Up 6 Down 1

Betty Miller on Feb 18, 2020 at 10:23 am

Thanks for trail comments. I could see from comm’s desk you were having trouble moving ahead and it turned out well in the end with all 14 dogs.

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