Mile 101, Steese Highway, AK - The top two teams in this year’s Yukon Quest blew through the Mile 101 checkpoint early Sunday morning. The rivalry continued up and over Eagle summit as Hugh Neff and Allen Moore battled for the win. A few hours behind them a far different story about camaraderie and friendship played out.
The sun hadn’t come up by the time Hugh Neff pulled his team into Mile 101 on the Steese Highway. It’s the second to last checkpoint on the Yukon Quest trail. Neff quickly bedded his team down and b-lined for a tiny shack, where two volunteers were cooking bacon and eggs.
Neff scurried around the cabin grabbing at chunks of scrambled egg with his fingers. He gulped it all down with coffee and water and rubbed the steam from the window with the back of his hand. “Did he go through?” He was watching for rival Allen Moore, who was hot on his tail. When he arrived, Moore did not bed down his team. Instead, he dropped his snow hook, ran for the cabin, and also grabbed a plateful of breakfast inside.
Moore took the plate of food to his sled, jumped on the runners and took off. Neff had hoped for Moore to stay. When the Two Rivers musher blew through, Neff finished his eggs, walked back to his sled, pulled his dogs from the straw and took off down the trail. He didn’t catch Moore by the time they both reached Two Rivers.
As the two front runners made their way down the trail, Brent Sass was making up time on Jake Berkowitz. Sass had left Central for the mountain summit only minutes behind Berkowitz, whose team took a little time to wake up from a four hour rest. Sass caught Berkowitz at Eagle summit. Rumors flew about what the two teams were up to, until Brent Sass finally pulled into the checkpoint under a blazing midday sun.
Not even a minute and a half later, Jake Berkowitz pulled in with more details. But it wasn’t until after both teams were bedded down for a long rest, that Berkowitz met Sass inside to share a plate full of bacon and a story about his dogs.
Sass and his now-retired lead dog, Silver are well-known for rescuing other mushers from tough conditions. Sass’s lead dog, Celia, is the two-and-a-half year old daughter of Silver. “Yep, Celia is following in her father’s footsteps," says Sass.
Neither musher seemed to mind the time they lost on the ordeal. In fact, Berkowitz conceded the trail and potentially a third place finish to Sass. He says he is proud to do so.