Carmacks, YK - The back of the pack is nearing the Yukon Quest finish line. But their run to Whitehorse has been filled with trials and tribulations. And there’s still a race happening.
Jerry Joinson has broken two sleds this year. It’s his third attempt at the Yukon Quest. He finished in 2011, notoriously one of the most dramatic and toughest years on the trail. His wife Lisa says all year long, he kept that race in the back of this head. “His favorite line all year long was ‘Well it can’t be as hard as 2011, it can’t be as hard as 2011.’ All year it was the same line. No! It’s worse!” says wife Lisa.\
Joinson, himself says he had had high hopes this year. I was looking forward to a nice smooth run, nice snow, nice temperatures around minus 20 or so, but it doesn’t happen for me.”
The 58 year old has a graying, curly beard and stark, blue eyes. He says this is likely his last shot at a Quest finish. “I’m not signing up again." He says he's retiring from the Quest, and when he's told others have said the same befroe him he responds smartly. "Well, they don’t have my knees.”
It’s true the Yukon River and the Canadian side of the race, which is usually known as the less challenging, speedier side, has thrown a lot at mushers. Rookie Mandy Nauman of Fairbanks says she’s enjoying the run, but it’s unlikely she will return for another attempt. "I guess I just wanted to be tested and boy have I been tested for sure.” But that doesn’t mean she won’t give her all to get to the finish line. “I’m stoked that I’m in it, and I’m still in it and I have healthy and semi-happy dogs at this point and the miles are getting smaller and smaller," she says. "I’m looking forward to leaving Braeburn on that final leg. It will be quite exciting for sure, for sure.”
And she won’t get there without some effort. Brian Wilmshurst, says he’s ready to race.
“I was saying at the beginning, I was bib number nine and I would love to come in number nine. I could be a reality which is nice. I want that nine, because I called it!” But he knows it will take some work. He calls Nauman a ‘livewire.’ “She moves pretty quick so we’ll see," says Wilmshurst. "We’ll see if I have a couple tricks up my sleeve and see how it goes!"
Wilmshurst is joking for the most part. He and Nauman have worked together for plenty of this year’s race. They broke trail through a snowstorm on the Yukon River between Dawson and Eagle. He says he wouldn’t have made it to Carmacks without Mandy Nauman. "Yeah, I got some frostbite on my fingers and I was really struggling to put booties on my dogs," he esays. "She helped me which was really nice and she got me addicted to those hand warmer things. I’ve never used those before in my life. I always thought I was tougher than that. Now the last two nights I’ve used them, and I think I’m addicted.”
This is the Yukoner’s third Quest and he says it’s been the toughest. “Compared to my last two quests it’s been a holiday on those," he laughs. "This year, you’ve had to work for it, that’s for sure, as you can see how many mushers are left. Yeah there’s been glare ice and overflow and snow storms and now 45 below.”
But he says he’ll be back. “Every year, I go into this thing thinking I’m going to be competitive," says Wilmshurst. "I don’t know if it’s the Canadian in me or what, but I get out there and I’m just like it’s amazing out here and I’m having such a great time. But I’d like to be competitive here in the future.”
This year’s race is likely to go down as one of the toughest, with a long hard run down the Yukon River, some serious drama within 80 miles of the finish, and many stories of teamwork and camaraderie along the way.