DAWSON CITY – Four Yukon Quest mushers have reached Dawson City from Pelly Crossing. Brent Sass was the first to reach the checkpoint, getting in at 11:24 a.m. today.
Upon his completion of the race, he will get a poke with two ounces of gold for reaching Dawson first.
Canadian Michelle Phillips was second in, reaching the checkpoint at 11:51 a.m. Fellow Canuck Hans Gatt was close behind getting in at 12:07 p.m.
Defending champion Allen Moore was the fourth musher in today at 12:16 p.m.
All the Yukon Quest mushers have left Pelly Crossing and are on their way to Dawson.
The breakaway pack was expected to reach Dawson around mid-day.
There are two places the mushers can stop at – Stepping Stone and Scroggie Creek.
The stretch between Pelly and Dawson is a 210-mile run. The first musher to leave Pelly was Moore, followed by Gatt.
Moore was the first to reach Stepping Stone, the place with the lasagna he enjoys so much, at 2 a.m. today.
Gatt and Sass arrived an hour later and stopped to rest.
Phillips reached Stepping Stone at 5:30 a.m. but decided to bypass the renowned hospitality and cuisine, pushing through and gaining some trail. Paige Drobny and Denis Tremblay employed a similar strategy.
Moore, Gatt, and Sass eventually retook the top three spots, unable to separate themselves, all reaching Scroggie Creek around the same time.
Sass continued up the trail about 10 miles past Scroggie before stopping to rest.
Phillips and Tremblay arrived in Scroggie just before 7 p.m. Monday. Phillips once again pushed on, retaking the lead as a result.
The remainder of the field is beginning to leave Scroggie Creek on their way to Dawson. A large portion is still resting there.
Seven mushers have yet to reach Scroggie Creek.
Rookie Remy Leduc, the potential Red Lantern winner for finishing last, has yet to reach Stepping Stone, which is where Lisbet Norris and Jimmy Lebling are resting.
Most of the mushers left Pelly throughout Monday. The cold weather was a major talking point for the first two days of the race, but the temperatures rose closer to -18 C Monday.
The sun remained hidden behind the clouds and the snow lightly fell over the Pelly checkpoint.
The mushers and their teams left the dog yard down an embankment and onto the Pelly River.
As they travelled along the river, they crossed under a bridge and quickly disappeared around the next bend, eyes set on Dawson.
Veteran musher Misha Wiljes left Pelly mid-Monday afternoon. She said she was looking forward to the long haul ahead of her.
“No, it’s just easy,” said Wiljes. “It is the longest, more camping it’s just longer, but it’s easier than it was before.
“There was jumble ice and tricking sections you had to hold on. This is the longest stretch, but it’s not tricky.”
Rob Cooke came into Pelly feeling depressed because his dogs weren’t eating, but he said it was because he fed them too much.
He said they are ready to go for the trip to Dawson. He used to view this stretch as the toughest, but not anymore.
“I always used to think this was the worst part of the race, but the last few years I realized Circle (Alaska) to Dawson is the tougher section,” said Cooke.
“If you think about it, this can play with your mind. I always find Pelly a difficult checkpoint because you’ve got his thought of 200 miles.
“But if anything happens, you have Stepping Stone or Scroggie if you need to get out. I’m trying not to think about it at the moment in terms of how tough it could be.”
Cooke left late Monday morning with 13 dogs, having dropped one in Carmacks.
When Brian Wilmshurst reaches Dawson, he will be back home.
“This is always one of the toughest parts of the race; it’s long,” said Wilmshurst. “I’m lucky because the last 50 miles is my training trail.”
Before he left, Wilmshurst said, it was just about getting his team motivated for the challenge ahead, but he’s looking forward to being back in Dawson.
“I’ll be there around Wednesday night,” said Wilmshurst. “Watch some hockey, drink some beers.”
Deke Naaktgeboren will be travelling the stretch from Pelly to Dawson for the first time.
“No thoughts,” said Naaktgeboren about the 210-mile ride he was about to do.
“I don’t want to think about it. It’s a 200-mile race right now. The next two, three, four runs without any support for the humans is a little intimidating.”
Naaktgeboren was preparing his sled while his dogs rested in the straw when he spoke to the Star.
“The dogs just had a nice eight-hour rest, and I’m about to add four more dogs to my team,” said Naaktgeboren.
“They are four of my cheerleaders, so they will be loud and screaming and ready to go.”
Naaktgeboren described Dawson as one of his favourite towns in the world. It will be the light at the end of a long journey.
Leduc, from New Brunswick, was preparing soup for his dogs as they huddled up together in the dog yard in Pelly.
“I heard it’s long,” said Leduc when asked what he’s heard about the upcoming stretch of trail.
“That’s pretty much it. I think we are prepared; once they eat something, they will be ready to go. It will be nice when I reach Dawson knowing I am halfway there.”
At 78, Jim Lanier is the oldest musher in the Quest, and possibly the oldest musher to ever run the race. He arrived in Pelly on Monday morning with a cut from the side of his right eye down to his check.
“I fell down and hit the jumbled ice,” said Lanier. “I’m fine.”
Lanier said he has heard that the stretch from Pelly to Dawson, although long, is going to be easier trail than the trail in the opening days of the race, which began in near -40 temperatures last Saturday in Whitehorse.
Lanier may be a Quest rookie, but he has plenty of experience racing in 1,000-mile races.
“It’s been as tough as they say,” said Lanier when asked if the Quest is what he expected.
With most of the teams on the trail, the ravens moved in from the river and picked through the straw where the dogs rested – the only evidence that the teams were ever there.
When they reach Dawson, mushers have a mandatory 36-hour layover.