Brent Sass was the first Yukon Quest musher to arrive today in Dawson City, the halfway point on the Yukon Quest trail.
The 200-mile stretch of trail to Dawson City is the longest between official race checkpoints. Sass’s team overtook Hugh Neff’s when he blew through Pelly Crossing early Monday morning. Sass says he has been looking over his shoulder ever since, especially when overflow slowed his team just outside of Dawson.
“When I got in that overflow I was like, ‘uh oh, they’re going to catch up to me right here,’ but it was like 15 minutes and I got through it,” Sass said.
The 200-mile stretch of trail to Dawson City is the longest between official race checkpoints.
If he crosses the finish line in Fairbanks, Sass will win the Dawson award: four ounces of gold, valued at roughly $6,000.
“Oh the gold, I’m not going to talk about it until the finish line, because I had a little incident last year, but it’s great to be here, but my goal was never been to be here first, my goal has been to be to the finish line first and that’s still to happen and there’s a lot of work to do before then,” Sass said.
The first Yukon Quest musher to arrive in Dawson City is awarded 4 ounces of gold.
But, in order to keep the money, the team also has to finish the race. But, gold or not, mushers have to find a ways to get to Dawson with teams that can still be able to race on the Alaska-side of the trail.
Allen Moore was explaining his race strategy when his alarm went off in the Pelly Crossing Checkpoint.
“Uh oh, it’s time to get up. Alright, I’m awake!” he said.
Moore says he’s only slept for two hours since the start, but because of the shorter mandatory layover in Dawson City, his team has had more rest than it did two years ago.
“We figured we probably need a little more rest going into 24 instead of 36,” he said.
Moore says he’s not so sure about is fellow competitors’ plans.
“It’s going to be something at the end of the race to see who has what left with three teams a couple of them especially running hundred plus mile legs at the race and we’ll see what they have at the end,” Moore said.
Early on, Jeff King ran his team for 100 miles straight to Braeburn. Hugh Neff ran over a hundred miles straight between Carmacks and Pelly Crossing. But Tagish musher Ed Hopkins says he is intentionally under-running his dogs.
“Whenever they feel like they want to really take off, I’ll just stop and I’ll just let them roll around until they ‘ll take off again slow and start climbing,” Hopkins said. “So when it’s time for me to let them go, I’m just going to let them go.”
Hopkins says that time won’t come until after he’s crossed the Alaska border.
It’s the kind of plan experienced Quest mushers execute well, which is frustrating for well-known Iditarod musher and Quest rookie Ray Redington Jr.
“In Iditarod, I kind of know where I’m at all the time, where here you’re just hoping you find the next spot,” he said.
More than half the race still lays ahead. The trail includes three major summits and it’s notorious for both jumble ice and overflow. Whether banked rest or early long runs will pay off remains unclear.