Two top ten teams are out after hard day on the trail

Feb 14, 2015

Eagle, AK - It was a day of attrition on the Yukon Quest trail Saturday as mushers left the eagle checkpoint and headed for Circle. Two experienced teams unexpectedly returned to Eagle to scratch from the race.

Cody Strathe decided to turn his team around and return to Eagle after struggling with his team for 30 miles.
Credit Pat Kane / Yukon Quest

  When Cody Strathe left Eagle early in the morning, his dog team seemed happy to make their way down the trail. But Strathe said he knew better. “The last few days, the dogs have been giving me signs that they had issues,” he said, “but in my head, I keep saying ‘Oh we’re good, if we can get through this, we can just keep going’ and you can only do that so many times.”

He left with ten dogs, but considered leaving at least two behind because of sore triceps and wrists. He says, for 30 miles, his dogs refused to follow his one shy leader Sable. “I didn’t really want to put everything on that one dog for 160 miles and if that was the case, it would really be the next 400 miles to the finish for her,” said Strathe.

So, Strathe returned to Eagle. 

“I pretty much cried the whole way back looking at the mountains and being out here and not being out there tomorrow, so you never know what’s going to happen,” said Strathe.

Joar Ulsom talked about his dogs with head veterinarian Nina Hansen (far left) after he arrived in Eagle.
Credit Julien Schroder / Yukon Quest

  A similar scenario played out earlier in the day for Norwegian Joar Ulsom. He traveled 20 miles and camped before he turned his team back. “Most of all we were just moving very slow and it didn’t seem the right thing to go further down the trail with that dog team,” said Ulsom.

Joar Ulsom's dogs rest in the Eagle checkpoint
Credit Julien Schroder / Yukon Quest

Ulsom left Eagle with eight dogs. He says he could have dropped at least three others because of sore muscles. One had an alignment issue in his back.  Ultimately, he also had a tough decision to make. “I had a little moment on the river, where I was a sad man,” Ulsom said, “but when I decided to turn them around and come back, that felt like the right decision.”

But it’s a decision that’s not without complication.  The road into Eagle is closed in the winter. So, after many phone calls and lots of discussion, both teams mushed down the street and out to the Eagle airstrip where dogs, sleds and both mushers boarded a plane bound for Fairbanks. They both say it’s likely they’ll return to race again.