It's a fine line between rest and racing for Yukon Quest mushers

Feb 9, 2015

Carmacks, YK - Yukon Quest mushers continue to battle subzero temperatures, but the race is heating up as teams complete the first of four mandatory layovers.  Mushers are trying to decide if they should rest their dogs early or keep moving and try to claim an early lead.

Perhaps it was no surprise Tok musher Hugh Neff arrived in Carmacks ahead of his competitors. In recent years, Neff has pushed his team early. “I just like to be out on the trail by myself, I don’t want to be around hoard of other people,” said Neff.

Neff said he’s running the same schedule he ran two years ago despite this year’s rule change that cuts the mandatory rest in Dawson City by 12 hours.

“Is there a rule that I can’t stay more than my layover hours?” he joked. “I was thinking about that because I don’t really plan on leading these guys around the whole race. So, if I could, I’ll just stay a couple extra hours in Dawson.”

Neff’s is the only team that rested less than ten hours by the time they left Carmacks.

When Jeff King’s dog team arrived the second checkpoint along the Yukon Quest trail, they were covered in frost, but in good spirits. The former champion says he has no intention of trying to claim an early lead with subzero temperatures and more than 75 percent of the race still ahead.  “I am not going to try to get in front at 40 frickin’ below,” he said. “I am going to be super conservative and very careful and drive my team like they are fins china.” 00:13

By the time he left Carmacks, King’s team had rested for roughly 13 hours. He says with temperatures at 40 below and colder, he plans to take advantage of warm checkpoints. “It’s pretty much beyond my wildest imagination why anyone would just go through a checkpoint and then go camp out,” he said.

“No, it just makes me build a bigger fire., Brent Sass said in response.

The Eureka musher loves to camp out on the trail.  “You can ask anybody out there, I’ve had some pretty big fires going,” he said.

Sass camped twice before he took his mandatory six-hour rest in Carmacks. He had to stay in the checkpoint for an additional hour and 15 minutes because of a time adjustment that’s based on the order dog teams left the start line. 

He says his team is holding up well against the cold, but he has a few dogs with tweaked wrists. “I think everybody’s got a little bit of stuff going on especially with how hard the trail has been, it’s been pretty hard and fast,” he said.

When Sass left Carmacks, his dogs had rested for about 15 hours. Before he took off he said he was planning ahead for the Alaska-side of the trail. “I start thinking about like the Yukon River by Circle and that seems like an eternity away and there’s so much that can happen between now,” said Sass. “I’m in the hunt so that’s all that needs to happen right now. The biggest thing is that my dogs are in good shape.”

Ray Redington Junior’s dogs also had 15 hours of rest when they left Carmacks. He says a few also have some minor wrist injuries. The rookie from Knik says his biggest challenge is the weather.  “Well its’ definitely no fun on the weather part.  The scenery and the people are awesome. I like mushing with no gloves!” laughed Redington, Junior.

So far, the trail has been relatively smooth, but there is a challenging section of rough jumble ice on the Yukon River ahead.  Teams leave the river at McCabe Creek, where they have the option to drop dogs, before pressing on for the next checkpoint at Pelly Crossing.