Bells jingled as Dyan Bergen pulled her team across this year’s Yukon Quest finish line. “They’re really bear bells,” she said.
“We always put bells to let the buffalo and moose and wolves know we’re coming. The one time I didn’t have the bells this year, we got chased by a wolf, so I put the bear bells back on.”
Bergen, from Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories, was the 20th and final musher to arrive in Fairbanks. She traveled nearly the entire Quest trail from Whitehorse by herself.
“I prefer to run by myself,” she said. “I train by myself I don’t have anybody else running with me, so it’s normal for me. I can run at my own pace, snack my dogs at my own pace and stop when I think they’re tired.”
Bergen’s dogs are just as shy as she is. Roughly 200 meters from the finish line, the team stopped. Bergen said the crowd gathered to welcome them and the bridges overhead made them nervous. So, she switched up her leaders and walked the skittish team across the line. She says it’s unlikely she will return for another Quest.
“No, I gotta spend the next five years paying for everything,” she laughed. Bergen accepted a red lantern for her finale finish during a banquet Saturday night. She and a handful of other rookies were recognized by 2013 Rookie of the Year, Scott Smith.
“To be a rookie in this race is unlike any other race,” Smith told the audience. “I feel more like a representative to you guys than the top rookie, so great job and congratulations.”
Rookie Darrin Lee took home the Challenge of the North Award this year. Race officials agreed unanimously Lee most exemplified the spirit of the race. This was Lee’s third attempt to complete the race.
“I never stopped running dogs ever since I last came here,” he said. “And it was always to come back and finish this so I really appreciate the officials recognizing me and everybody. Thank you.” Lee is among a handful of mushers who say they aren’t planning to return for another Yukon Quest.
But there is one musher who says he’ll never leave. Healy musher Dave Dalton tied 1995 Champion Frank Turner for the most Yukon Quest finishes this year. Both men have run 18 races. Dalton says he doesn’t have a reason to quit. “It’s just a way of life for me,” Dalton said.
“It’s just the people and the racing and it’s an adventure every year different things happen and it’s a challenge every year it challenges me and my dogs and my body.”
Dalton’s highest finished third in 2004 and 2008. He said he’s always aiming for a win. “Oh yeah!” he said. “Next year we got five new finishers so, we should have a good selection next year. So we’re still rebuilding year after year, so one of these days it’s just gonna click.”
There were a handful of other awards given out during the banquet. Eureka musher Brent Sass received this year’s Sportsmanship Award. Whitehorse musher Normand Casavant was awarded the Veterinarian’s Choice Award for exemplary Dog Care.
Champion Allen Moore’s lead dog Quito received a bowl full of steak and a golden harness. The six-year old husky has finished three Yukon Quests and four Iditarods. Allen Moore said he’ll likely return next year. With years of racing ahead, Quito may well be one of the lead dogs to leave next year’s Yukon Quest start line on February 1, 2014.