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Photo by John Tonin

ANOTHER 1,000 MILES COMPLETE – Local musher Michelle Phillips placed 13th in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Pictured above, Phillips departs the Pelly Crossing checkpoint during the 2020 Yukon Quest.

Michelle Phillips comes 13th in Iditarod

Coming off a second-place finish in the 2020 Yukon Quest,

By John Tonin on March 25, 2020

Coming off a second-place finish in the 2020 Yukon Quest, local musher Michelle Phillips and her dog team made their way to Anchorage, Alaska to run in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race – one of the few sporting events not cancelled over COVID-19 concerns.

Although the race still went on, Phillips said there were some differences and precautions taken amidst the pandemic.

“Some villages didn’t want checkpoints,” said Phillips. “In Shaktoolik (the sixth checkpoint from the finish), we weren’t allowed in town.”

Other checkpoints were moved outside the communities to limit contact.

Phillips also said in Nome, the races finish, there was only one handler allowed. The closing banquet was cancelled.

Phillips reached Nome in 13th place with 11 dogs. She finished in nine days, 22 hours, 42 minutes and 14 seconds.

“I wanted to place higher,” said Phillips. “But, I was only six hours behind second place. It was a tight race and I was in the ballpark of where I wanted to be. It was extremely competitive.”

The winner of the race was Norweigan Thomas Waerner, in nine days, 10 hours, 37 minutes and 47 seconds. Mitch Seavey, from Seward, Alaska, came second around six hours after Waerner.

The Iditarod proved difficult in 2020. Fifty-seven mushers began the nearly 1,000 mile (1,600 kilometre) trek from Anchorage to Nome on March 8. Of those 57, 23 scratched along the way.

Phillips said it was a difficult race.

“It was tough,” said Phillips. “It was snowy, the trail was soft and the temperatures were warm.

“There was more snow than the Quest. The moose couldn’t even move around it was so deep. It was a slog and slow travelling.”

Slog was a common term used to describe the conditions on the Yukon Quest trail, where mushers dealt with deep snow and overblown trail. Having dealt with tough conditions before the Iditarod, Phillips said she was ready.

“We saw a lot of tough conditions on the Quest,” said Phillips. “The dogs and myself are well-conditioned for that.”

The warm temperatures meant Phillips had to readjust her schedule.

“It’s much slower when warmer,” said Phillips. “The perfect temperature for running dogs is -20 C. It was super warm during the day so it’s nicer to run at night so we adjusted the plan to run at night.”

Phillips said while battling the tough conditions, moments of doubt do creep in.

“You go through that all the time,” said Phillips. “Mushers have so many ups and downs, we’re like yo-yos. But, we have short memories and we just live in the moment.”

Phillips finished the race with Gaia, who sustained an injury last year that prevented her from competing, in the lead.

She also singled out Kale and Dragon for having strong races, but said all 14 dogs, in the 4-6 age-range did amazing.

“It’s a beautiful team and they all did a fabulous job,” said Phillips. “They are such a tight group of dogs.

“They did great and I’m so proud of the team and the handlers and am looking forward to next year.”

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