Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by John Tonin

THE FIRST TO REGISTER – Veteran Yukon Quest musher Rob Cooke becomes the first to sign up for the 1,000-mile race on Saturday at the Whitehorse office.

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Photo by John Tonin

PUTTING PEN TO PAPER – Nathaniel Hamlyn is the first musher in Whitehorse to register for the Yukon Quest 300 race on Saturday.

Yukon Quest registration opens, 10 mushers add name to roster

It was a festive day at the Yukon Quest office in Whitehorse on Saturday.

By Whitehorse Star on August 6, 2019

It was a festive day at the Yukon Quest office in Whitehorse on Saturday. Not only did the Yukon Quest open its registration for the 2020 1,000-mile race, but it was also Barkfest, a celebration of the race.

The sun shone brightly as race fans, their dogs and Quest volunteers gathered outside for the sixth annual Barkfest, which had a barbecue, a fundraiser and a dog/owner look-alike contest.

The clock ticked down toward 1 p.m., the official opening of the registration. In Alaska, signup began at 12 p.m. In what has become a tradition, Rob Cooke, from Whitehorse, was the first musher to add his name to the 1,000-mile roster.

"There is no real advantage to it," said Cooke. "I just come into town early and figured I'd come get my name on the list and get it over with."

Although it is August and the race doesn't start until Feb. 2, 2020, Cooke said he has already begun training.

"We started about four weeks ago," said Cooke. "This is unusual. This is the first time in the Yukon that we have trained in July. I'm going away for three weeks in September so I need to get ahead in training.

"We are living out on Annie Lake Road and we seem to be getting cooler temperatures, so getting them out at four in the morning and taking a team out every day. It's going well so far."

Cooke has a four-wheeler to which he will hook up 16 to 18 dogs and run them around the trails.

The registration and Barkfest, Cooke said, make it finally feel like the Yukon Quest is back on the horizon.

"Definitely, now that the signup is here," said Cooke. "I've known for maybe two or three months that I was going to sign up. Now that signup is here, we need to focus on training. It gives us something to focus on that we need to have the dogs ready for the first week of February."

Cooke said he bounced around the idea of not racing the 1,000-mile race again.

"This year was a pretty tough year," said Cooke. "I really thought I was done, that I wasn't going to race again. At least not race 1,000-mile race again.

"The more time that goes on after the race, the more you forget just quite how painful it can be and how difficult it can be. Normally by May, June, you forget all the pain and you just look forward to the excitement."

Currently, Cooke has 35 dogs in training, including some young dogs new to the Quest.

"We have a bunch of young dogs and we are probably going to retire some dogs that have normally done the Quest," said Cooke. "There is going to be a bunch of young dogs on the team so it will be interesting to see if they keep their enthusiasm up because at the moment they are super enthusiastic.

"Similar to me, their enthusiasm can drop away in December, but they enjoy it much more than I do. You get to the checkpoints and the finish, they are always pumped up and happy. I'm definitely not happy at the finish."

The 2020 Yukon Quest will be run from Fairbanks to Whitehorse because it’s an even year.

"A lot of people think it is easier to start in Fairbanks because you get Rosebud and Eagle summit over with right at the start of the race with fresh dogs and big dog team," said Cooke. "Conversely, if you start in Whitehorse, you have those summits at the end of the race.

"I think the two times I've done the Fairbanks start, I actually found it harder. I prefer to start in Whitehorse. Everyone thinks the Yukon is flat, it's really not. King Solomon's Dome is the highest point in the race itself. It is all up in down. I found it tougher starting in Fairbanks."

The big positive for Cooke starting in Fairbanks is that when the race is over, he gets to go right home.

The 2020 race will be Cooke's seventh. In 2019, he came in 19th place, reaching Fairbanks in 11 days 21 hours and 41 minutes.

Cooke races with Siberian huskies. He got started in mushing in 1997 when he got his first Siberian husky, and "it all went downhill from there."

In total, 10 mushers signed up for the race on Saturday. The 2019 champion is back to defend his title. Twins Lori and Louve Tweddell from Whitehorse are the only rookies in the field so far.

Dave Dalton, the musher with the most races to his name, will make in an even 30 races when he leaves Fairbanks. Torsten Kohnert, Cody Strathe and Ryne Olsen are all back in the mix, and the final musher is Richie Beattie.

Beattie is back on the Quest trail for the first time since 2007.

The deadline for mushers to submit applications for regular entry to the 2020 race is Nov. 30, and late entries will be accepted until Jan. 3, 2020.

The YQ300 registration also opened on Saturday and saw 10 mushers add their names to the 25-person roster.

Nathaniel Hamlyn, who raced the 1,000-mile race the past two years, was the first musher at the Whitehorse office to sign up.

Hamlyn described multiple factors in his decision to run the 300 this year.

"The money is always there, the time," said Hamlyn. "Also, my wife, Annika, she wants to run dogs too. She will be training a lot this winter and she will be doing races this winter. So we are splitting it up and doing more events."

Although he isn't doing the 1,000-mile race, Hamlyn said he still wanted to be involved in the Quest.

"Definitely wanted to be involved," said Hamlyn. "I love the event, and plus I still get to three mountains and a bonus, my dad is doing this race so we get to travel together and it will be fun."

He said it will be some friendly competition between himself and his dad, Paul.

"I raced in the Percy (DeWolfe) with him," said Hamlyn. "He is building up his kennel but it is a lot of competition with him."

Hamlyn still has the longer race on his radar.

"I have the 1,000 in my sights and I am also thinking Iditarod one day, so you'll never know when I'll be back," said Hamlyn.

His kennel is still small, and he has his eyes set on the future.

"I have 16 dogs, and a couple are going to retire after this season and I have pups hopefully today," said Hamlyn. "That will be my future, so I'm looking at building up a little more and coming back."

As a 1,000-mile finisher, Hamlyn said, there will be some internal pressure to perform in the YQ300.

"In the 1,000 the first time, it was just to finish, and the second time, I wanted to improve on that," said Hamlyn. "Three years ago, I did the Quest 300, and I was third.

"Entering this race, I feel like I could compete on some levels. I'm going to do the Copper Basin before it as training for me and my dogs; that's a really tough race as well. I hope to at least compete in this one and learn. Always learn from every race that I do."

He has not officially started training, but his dogs have been working this summer staying in shape.

"My dogs go to Caribou Crossing," said Hamlyn. "They pull carts all summer for tourists, so they've been in shape and remained in shape, and I'll get them back middle of September and start training them harder."

Other mushers to sign up for the YQ300 are J Jay Levy, Will Troshynski, Vickie Justice, Dave Turner, Kelby Dillon, Lauro Eklund, Jennifer LaBar, and Misha Wiljes, who competed in the 1,000-mile race last year.

The YQ300 is a recognized 300-mile qualifying race for both the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Comments (1)

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Yukoner on Aug 9, 2019 at 8:50 pm

When I first moved here I was excited to see this race, and gladly helped out every year at the Carbon Hill Dog Sled Race. Now am frustrated and do not see the romance anymore. When I think of this sport I think of rude people who have taken over the trails and dogs chained to posts. Teams dash out of trees across roadways with little reflective on them. This is especially true out on the Annie Lake Rd. There has been a significant increase of mushers outs here. I am not sure if I have had an encounter with Rob Cooke, as bundled people all look the same, but I have certainly been woken up in the middle of the night by teams going past, have been sworn at by mushers, and one of my neighbours was hit by a sled, and the person did not even stop to make sure all was well. The people who I have tried to have a conversation with tell me that it is public land (i.e. I can be rude and inconsiderate). I no longer celebrate nor support this sport.

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