The Yukon Quest has a winner! Matt Hall, a Two River musher, had to overcome adversity and have a little luck along the way.
Hall mushed into a crowded finish chute and under a golden banner in downtown Fairbanks Tuesday (Feb. 14), just in time for lunch. For the first time in ten days, he didn’t look tired. Neither did his ten dogs. To get there, they had traveled nearly 1,000 miles together, through jumble ice, rocky summits and 70 degree temperature swings.
They passed the remote Yukon village where Hall grew up and the town where he lives today.
At 25 years old, Hall is the second youngest musher to win the Yukon Quest in its 34-year history. That’s partly because he’s been mushing since he was four. His parents have a homestead six miles downriver from Eagle where they run a trapline and do dog tours. Hall was on a sled by age two and was driving his own dogs a couple years later.
At the end of the chute, Hall’s parents, Wayne and Scarlett, with pride shining on their faces. They had found someone to take care of their 50 dogs so they could fly to Fairbanks and see their son finish.
“It was just one of those things where you have to make it happen,” Wayne Hall said. “It was a close call but we made it happen.”
The Quest is a family tradition. His dad ran the race three times, and his mom has run the checkpoint in Eagle for twenty-some years. Hall used to sleep in a box of T-shirts during race-time.
“He’d look out the windows til the teams came, then he’d race out and do whatever little chores they’d give him to do,” Scarlett Hall said.
Hall learned to mush on trapline trails along the Yukon River, and he wasn’t ALWAYS interested in racing. When he was a teenager, his dad recruited him to do 100 mile training runs.
“And he’d say I’m never gonna do this,” Wayne said.
There was another family member waiting for him too, a soft tricolor dog named Keeper who Matt has built his entire team around.
“Awww Keeper, there he is,” Matt Ryan said.
He dropped the eight-year-old dog in Dawson because he couldn’t quite keep up, and handed the team over to a lanky orange and white dog named Anchor. Who led him to victory.
“Everything he’s seeing right now is a new adventure for him and just with his mentality and drive to be up there, that is turning him into an incredible lead dog,” Hall said.
Hall beat three former Yukon Quest champions this year, making a big run in the middle of the race to take the lead. He was neck and neck with Eureka musher Brent Sass as they crossed from Canada into Alaska. But Sass scratched outside Central when two dogs collapsed unexpectedly, leaving Hall alone at the front of the pack, six hours ahead of the next musher, which was quite a surprise for him.
“This is my fourth quest. I expected to get a little close and closer each year, but didn’t expect a slingshot out front,” Hall said.
Hall said he was ready for lunch and, eventually, a long sleep.