Three mushers are running close together at the front of the Summit Quest 300 sled dog race. Dan Kaduce, Hugh Neff and Deke Naaktgeboren were at the Circle checkpoint this morning (Mon) completing mandatory rest before they could hit the trail back toward Central, where the race will finish. The competition among the top mushers began to play out yesterday (Sun) as they climbed over the trail’s highpoints: Rosebud and Eagle Summits. KUAC’s Lex Treinen reports.
As the top mushers arrive at the finish in Central, mid and back of the pack racers are still trickling in and out of Circle, and the 70-mile run on Birch Creek threw racers some of its usual obstacles.
There’s really just two words that rookie Vicky Justice needs to describe the run from Circle to Central, most of which is on the 64 or so oxbows of Birch Creek.
“Long and cold,” she said.
It’s warmed up to -30 in Circle as Justice prepares to feed her dogs around midday on Monday. She’s wearing just liner gloves. Temperatures in the Gwich’in village on the Yukon River were close to 40 below overnight. While there’s no official temperature reading on the creek, most racers will tell you its a few degrees colder in the river bed than it is in town. Rookie Adam Lindenmuth found some cold comfort by putting things in perspective.
“I was definitely cold but like it wasn't as cold as Birch Creek gets. So I'm pretty happy about that,” he said.
And he had a strategy to keep his blood flowing on the trail.
“I was doing squats on the back of the sled,” he said.
Without any hills or turnoffs, mushers can pretty much go into auto pilot for much of the run. That can be dangerous if drivers doze off or don’t realize their toes or fingers are freezing. Lindenmuth had plenty to keep him awake though as his mind replayed a harrowing incident from the previous day on Rosebud Summit.
“I fell off of my sled and was just getting drug by the snow hook, and it eventually stuck and I just laid there for like 10 minutes,” he said.
When there is an even worse experience to think about, Birch Creek doesn’t seem that bad, if you have the right kind of masochism.
“I'm just tired, really, but um, it's like the the, like, happy kind of sleep deprived or you just kind of silly,” he said.
Veteran Jodie Bailey says she enjoys the winding river too. The Chatanika musher trained on the trail in January, so she felt good about the run, even though she wasn’t quite sure where Circle was as she approached town.
A few hundred yards before the checkpoint, she ran the first team to leave the checkpoint. It happens to be her husband Dan Kaduce. Back at the checkpoint, Bailey recounted what happened when the two teams approached on the trail.
“I was coming in with a dog named Barry in the bag, as Dan was leaving, and very suddenly he was like, ‘Yeah!’ And like, flew out of the sled and sent everything flying,” she said.
Barry had sensed his kennel mates well before the two teams met. The dog, which had a minor injury and was in the sled, was still tied by the collar. That left Bailey’s team tangled up on the trail.
“I'm trying to hook that with one hand. And by the time Dan sees me, I've got one hand on the dog and one hand on the sled, and he's like, ‘How's it going?’ and mushes by,” she said.
Kaduce was unphased by the ordeal as shown by his eventual win.