Dawson City, AK - The top Yukon Quest mushers have been arriving in Dawson City all night. The trail to the race’s halfway point has been rough, but mushers know the Alaska side of the trail could be even tougher and there’s plenty more racing to be done.
Eureka musher Brent Sass has a six-hour lead. He also stands to win a little extra prize money. If he crosses the finish line in Fairbanks, Sass will win the Dawson award: four ounces of gold, valued at roughly six thousand dollars.
“Oh the gold, I’m not going to talk about it until the finish line, because I had a little incident last year,” said Sass.
Last year, Sass was in the lead when he fell from his sled and suffered a concussion just over 100 miles from the finish line, so he knows anything can happen. The Alaska-side of the trail is notoriously rough. He said it’s been on his mind.
“Yeah, I’ve though about it a lot,” he said. “But I have to see what the weather’s going to be like and all kinds of stuff, but I stuck to a schedule this first half almost to a tee and I have a schedule planned out for the second half and at the moment, that’s what I’m going to stick to.”
After teams arrive in Dawson, they head for a small camp. That’s where Sass headed to bed down his dogs for their 24-hour layover. As he and handler Josh Horst removed ice-crusted coats and harnesses from dogs, Sass relayed a story about shin deep overflow near Dawson.
Sass also tossed his dogs snacks while water warmed in a nearby cooker. He says despite subzero temperatures, most of his dogs are well hydrated and holding weight. “They’ve been eating like horses,” he said. “It’s great, so I’m stoked about that. That makes my life a heck of a lot easier,” said Sass.
Hours later, two-time defending champion Allen Moore pulled into the checkpoint. He said he’s right where he wants to be. “Well, the last two years, I came in here second, so I like coming in here second.”
Moore is in the hunt, from here on out. “The closer we get, if I get close to Brent, then it will be more of an advantage to me, I think,” said Moore.
Moore’s advantage is that he will know where Sass is and how long he is resting. Out on the trail, Moore also rested his dogs for a few more hours than Sass. “Hopefully this will help at the end of the race, because they didn’t get pushed too hard,” Moore said. “I added a lot more rest, where it seems like everyone else is taking away and going on longer runs.”
“I’m just hoping for a huge snowstorm and maybe slow them both down,” said Hugh Neff.
When his tired team arrived in Dawson, his handlers were waiting with chunks of raw chicken.
Neff’s dogs have the least amount of rest of any team running in the top ten. The Tok musher has a team of mostly veterans, with a few young dogs mixed in. “I don’t like the way we’re running right now. Basically I’ve been running and kicking the whole time because half my team is not doing anything, so I’m pretty wiped out.”
Neff plans to drop his young dogs for the next half of the race. Even with experienced dogs, he says it’s unlikely he’ll make up time on the two teams ahead. He also had a warning for Brent Sass. “Allen Moore is Allen Moore. He knows how to pick apart leads. I should know about that, so those guys are going to have fun going at it with each other,” Neff said.
According to a weather forecast, temperatures may finally warm to above zero, which could challenge for Brent Sass’s large, thick-coated dogs. But there’s also a little snow in the forecast, which might challenge Allen Moore’s petite, short-legged team. There are still more than 500 miles of trail ahead.