One of the big changes to this year’s Summit Quest 300 race is the how mushers are required to rest at checkpoints and one day into the race, the rule change is already playing into team tactics.
As he hooks up his dogs before the start of the 300-mile Summit Quest, longtime musher Dan Kaduce says a new rest requirement means a lot more rest than usual for teams.
“22 hours of rest in 300 miles is an unprecedented amount,” he said.
Normally, top racers are resting closer to 15 hours. But that rest is usually spread out evenly throughout the trail. This year’s requirement means that rest out on the trail won’t count for the total, but there will be fast runs in between checkpoints.
“It’s gonna be a bit more of a speed race because dogs will be fully rested after leaving each checkpoint,” he said.
On Saturday at the Pleasant Valley Community Center, getting their full rest is just what teams are doing. After a sunny and flat easy 40-mile flat loop around the Two Rivers trails, teams are still peppy, and mushers are getting some quick shut-eye in their trucks.
But up next is possibly the hardest stretch of trail: 70 miles over Rosebud Summit. In a normal year, that run would be split up. Kaduce says he’s going for it.
“If you’ve trained up a team, it’s doable,” he said.
While Kaduce is confident in his team, less experienced mushers aren’t. Adam Lindenmuth is 28 years old and has been mushing for just four years. He is playing it by ear.
“The goal if the dogs wanna go that far is to not split up any of the runs this time and see if they can pull that,” he said.
And for others with young dogs who are running conservative races, having the long required rest at checkpoints will get in the way of a normal run-rest schedule. 24-year-old Lauro Eklund is running a young team, and he got some reservations.
“It takes a lot of strategy away from camping on the trail, you know, the old rest wasn’t bad, but this is a new format, so it’ll be fun to see,” he said.
Kai Leddy says she’s definitely stopping, hopefully before Rosebud Summit, and after the overflow that often shows up on the next run.
“I’ll watch them how bad they need the rest, do they need two hours or three hours,” she said.
Part of her strategy has less to do with her 300-mile race, and more to do with the dogs she’s running. Her team is a puppy team of Iditarod champ Dallas Seavey. She has to make sure they’re ready to pull Dallas next year at the Iditarod, and it’s more of a mental concern than a physical one.
“If you march em down a 70-mile run, they’ll do it, but they won’t be stoked at the end of it, so the idea is that one day they’ll crush 1000 miles because they want to crush it,” she said.
Some of the other younger racers also feel a bit let down not to have the full Quest experience of camping on the trails, but they’re willing to give it a try.
Race Marshall Doug Grilliot says the board of directors decided to make the rule change to see if it would help improve dog care.
“We’re gonna give it a shot this year, and see how it goes,” he said.
At the Pleasant Valley checkpoint, things have calmed down as the dogs have settled into a light rest.
As he prepares his dogs to for the long trip over Rosebud Summit, longtime racer Hugh Neff says he’s fine with the new rules, as long as the media can get good photos.
“If the vets deem it’s a good idea and it’s good in internet land, so be it,” he said.
But there’s a bit of nostalgia in his voice as he talks about camping on the course.
“It ain’t like the old days this is a new age of mellow mushing,” he said.
But just after he says that his dogs start yelping. Soon the rest of the dog yard is in a frenzy. The top mushers pull their snow hooks and start their 70-mile speed run over Rosebud Summit.