On To The Hard Part…2/11

The Dalton Gang pulled out of town at 3:10am this morning, ready to go despite a driving snowstorm. It had started snowing hours before his departure, covering all equipment under at least 2″ of the fluffy, white stuff, but Dave didn’t want to fall too far behind the front runners. Starting minutes behind musher Mike Ellis and picking up another musher who had turned around, the three started off as a unit, cooperating in order to make it through the blizzard and over Eagle Summit.

Axel and JC share a laugh.

Luckily, Dave was well rested, having spent the previous 36 hours relaxing and plotting strategy. His handlers were not so fortunate. Dawson City is the one place along the Quest trail where mushers can receive help from non-racers and so, this is the moment when the handlers earn their keep. It almost makes you wonder how the lone musher on the trail gets it done.

Ultimately, it is a race of attrition. Every year, fully one-third of the mushers who start off on the Quest end up scratching. So far, out of an initial fieldof twenty-five, five mushers have scratched. Expect a couple more after this leg, the most difficult and trying of the course…and that’s without blinding snowstorms!

Dawson City Layover – 2/10

The man has arrived and now the key word is rest. The Gang made their entrance into the one-time “Paris of the the North” at 3:10pm, yesterday, and for the next 36 hours will be recuperating and readying for the next leg of the journey.

The dogs look great, though there are a few sore wrists. Still with the proper care and attention, there is no reason they won’t be charging through to the next checkpoint. Dave, of course, is tired too, but after a jacuzzi and a good night’s rest in a real bed, he’s feeling much better.

Here’s a video shot by Peter Kamper, official videographer of the Yukon Quest, showing Dave’s arrival…

Dawson, The City of Gold 2/9

The City of Gold

The Quest mushers are slowly filtering into Dawson City, halfway mark of the great race. Listing a population of 1,360, during the Gold rush days of the 1890s, this town was home to over 40,000 people, including the likes of Jack London, Skookum Jim Mason, and Tagish Charlie. Gold seekers drank hard at Diamond Tooth Gerties’ and the Hub (now the Red Feather saloon. )

Hugh Neff

Gold hunters still come to this town only now the names are Hugh Neff and Hans Gatt. Neff was the first to arrive yesterday at 3:30 in the afternoon with Hans close on his heels, an hour behind. For his efforts Neff was awarded 4 ounces of gold nuggets. Hugh is also the first musher in Quest history to be first at every checkpoint to Dawson. Congratulations, Hugh!

Dave and the Gang are making their way here and expect to arrive sometime around noon. After that, they’ll have a mandatory 36-hour layover to rest and relax. Something they are looking forward to.

Unlike the Spartan-like accomodations of Braeburn and Pelly, we are housed in a quasi- mansion with the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.

Outside my window

Dave and the boys (not the dogs) will enjoy a jacuzzi tonight!

Pelly Crossing Pt. 2

It was a long day for handlers and members of the media at the Pelly Crossing checkpoint. Throughout the day, dodgy internet connectivity played havoc with those giving and getting information. When Dave pulled into Pelly Crossing at 2:26pm, only some of the laptops in the Community Center were able to relay the information to eager race fans.

During an interview with Fairbanks radio station KUAC, Dave called the trail conditions “ideal”. “Cold, but not too cold and the trail is hard-packed snow.” At the moment, Dave is running in the middle of the pack, chasing Hugh Neff along with everyone else. Though there is no mandatory rest for mushers at this checkpoint, many take advantage of the facilities for a hot meal and a little shut-eye. In a 1,000-mile race, there are several strategies, depending on the weather conditions and terrain, that drivers will adopt. Neff has started at a blistering pace leaving many to wonder if he can maintain it. As a 20+ year veteran, Dave knows exactly what he wants to do and that is to hit the summits (there are four, altogether) with a rested and health team.

Bootie changing at Pelly

Pelly Crossing is home to the Selkirk First Nation of Northern Tutchone people and many are volunteers helping Quest followers. It is a testament to the Quest logistics team that they can pull so many people from disparate walks of life. Inside their Community Center at the “Questaraunt”, they serve up Alaskan delicacies like Moose Stew and salmon. As with all stops along the trail, mushers eat for free.

After a five hour layover, the Dalton Gang rejoined the race and are now on their way to Dawson. This is the longest distance between checkpoints, 201 miles. The only viewing possible is from the air. As his handlers, we’ll be heading out in the morning. It should take Dave nearly 24 hours of mushing to get there. We’ll do it in four.

In the meantime, here’s a video of several mushers leaving Carmacks and heading to Pelly Crossing…