Quest 550 Wraps Up With 8 Finishers
Lex Treinen KUAC
(Fairbanks, Ak) Eighth-place finisher Shaynee Traska and her team led by Logan charged up the banks of the Chena River to the finish line right around 11 a.m. on Thursday to close out the 2023 Yukon Quest Alaska.
“Red lantern!” said Traska at the finish shoot. “It’s my very first one, so that’s exciting.”
All teams finished within about fifteen hours after five days of racing. The team of Lauro Eklund was withdrawn from the race about 300 miles in because it had fallen too far behind, in the eyes of the race marshal. Traska, a 2019 Iditarod finisher, said it was a competitive field.
“I thought I went into it with a somewhat conservative race schedule, something that wouldn’t put me too far behind, but I guess it did,” she said. “Everybody was just flying out there.”
The race was the first held since the Alaska and Canada board of directors broke up over a disagreement about mandatory rest times -- ending, for now, the traditional 1,000-mile race between the two countries.
Mushers had mixed emotions about the prospect of the 1,000 mile race not happening again.
Deke Naaktgeboren, who finished in seventh place, said the 550-mile distance was a good way to prepare for the 1,000-mile Iditarod, which starts the first week of March.
“I like it as an option, but nothing will ever replace the 1,000-mile international Yukon Quest,” he said.
Teams had remarkably smooth trail and good snow coverage throughout the race.
For the final 50-mile run from Nenana to Fairbanks, temperatures dropped to negative double digits for most mushers. Cody Strathe’s team charged into the finish chute around 5 a.m. Thursday to claim fourth place. He arrived with his glasses covered in thick frost.
“I’m a fat man in a little bib,” he said and asked a handler to help pull off his bib over his thick fur-ruffed hood.
Strathe said it was a tough, cold run as he tried to avoid being detected by his competitors by turning off his headlamp.
“We ran all the way here in the dark. I thought maybe we'd be able to catch Wade and maybe I’d be caught by someone behind me,” he said.
Wade Marrs, the team in front of him, had finished two hours earlier, thanks to running shoes that Marrs put on at the last checkpoint in Nenana. He jogged alongside his sled during the 50 mile run as much as he could The teams behind Strathe were engaged in their own battle for the last team to get the last prize payout for fifth place, a cool $5,000.
Big Lake musher Nic Petit bested Fairbanks’ Riley Dyche to snag fifth place about an hour behind Strathe. Petit, running his first Quest, reluctantly agreed to an interview.
“I gotta pee, but I can answer a couple,” he said.
Petit was dressed in a billowy white windbreaker top and bottom over his parka. He said the river run from Nenana to Fairbanks was cold. He also had a more unusual problem from the night before.
“I slept too much," he said.
He said his dogs were tired from navigating Eagle and Rosebud Summits twice this year. By the time they got to the Tanana River on Wednesday evening, he could tell they needed some extra rest. He had to stop once to camp, then a second time, allowing mushers from behind him, like Amanda Otto and Cody Strathe -- to pass him. He got to rest his tired eyes, but said it's never fun to get passed.
“I never like being passed, even if you’re driving your car,” he said.
Still, he said, he might be back next year gunning for a bigger share of the $100,000 prize purse.
“As long as it’s not too cold,” he said.
Riley Dyche arrived about 15 minutes later. Like Petit, and several other teams, he said he struggled on the last 150 miles of river running on the Tanana. After resting in Nenana fifty miles from the finish, he hopscotched with Petit’s team several times.
“I was able to almost chase Nic down, or chased him down for a minute before he did his usual tricks,” said Dyche.
Still Dyche said he enjoyed the race, even with a broken foot pad that cost him a few hours in Central. He said the 550 distance is a great training run for his upcoming Iditarod run.
“It’s a distance race. The dogs have a metabolic change, as far as how they absorb nutrition and things in a thousand-mile race,” he said. ###