Dawson City, YK - There are three Yukon Quest teams currently running among the top ten that did not plan on racing with the front-runners when they left Whitehorse. In fact, none them were able to complete the race last year, so they returned simply to finish what they started.
When Mike Ellis arrived in Dawson City, he had no idea what his place was. “At the beginning of the race, I said I thought I’d be lucky to be even in the top 15 with the field and the names that this race had,” he said.
Ellis has started the Quest six times, but he has only finished three. “This is the first Quest I’ve ever run where I didn’t’ have a schedule written down in my book, where I didn’t have definitive plan of what I was going to do,” Ellis said. “I really just wanted to put my blinders on and just focus on my dog team and I think that’s served me very well so far.”
French Canadian Normand Casavant had a similar attitude headed into the race. “I just want to have a happy run and I let my dogs go and if I’m having a nice race and a competitive one, that’s life that’s going to give it to me and that’s maybe what’s happened right now,” smiled Casavant.
Last year, a case of shingles cut Casavant’s race short. He says the experience changed his perspective, but there are some things that never change.
Casavant is known as the singing musher, and that’s what he did when he realized he was running right on the heels of Cody Strathe. “As we climbed up King Solomon’s Dome, the snow got deeper and deeper and my leaders got really excited to break trail and were just flying,” said Strathe.
He also came to finish what he started last year. In 2014, he had to scratch from the race with just over 100 miles to go. He says the early part of the race was tough, but he was encouraged when what started as a slow slog just outside Dawson City turned into a high point for his team. “We got up on top and they were busting into drifts and bouncing through and we’d stop and the whole team’s tails would be wagging,” Strathe said.
The top ten teams are likely to cross the Canada-Alaska border today. They’ve come just over halfway, but there’s still 400 miles of rough trail ahead before they reach the finish in Fairbanks.