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Yukon Quest

Mixed Emotions in the Middle of the Pack

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Emily Schwing
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KUAC

Pelly Crossing, YK - Yukon Quest mushers running in the middle of the pack are experiencing a range of emotions as they close in on the half-way point in Dawson City.  Some teams are pleased with their runs, while others have had to regroup after unexpected mishaps on the trail.

French Canadian musher Normand Casavant is running the Yukon Quest for third time.  He ran the race in 2009 and 2010.  Since then, he’s been known as the singing musher.  “I still sing a lot with my dogs," he laughs.  My wife says you always sing."

But Casavant was singing the blues on his way into Carmacks.  It appeared as though he had made a strategic decision to camp outside the checkpoint and blow through to McCabe Creek or even Pelly Crossing.  In reality he had stopped his team to deal with a series of injuries. He pulled into Carmacks frantic and disappointed. “I saw a dog make a bad move and he hurt his shoulder.  I saw another dog who was dehydrated, so I said ok, I better stop too, and right after that I saw two dogs that had some blood, one on his feet and one on his belly, so I thought,  four dogs with injuries? I’m gonna scratch.”

His calls for a veterinarian echoed across the dog yard.  After a long rest, Casavant decided to stay in the race and he left for Pelly Crossing, where he arrived in better spirits.  Not long after leaving the race’s third checkpoint, however, he had to turn around.  This time his laugh echoed across the dog yard.  He had returned to drop a dog.  On his way, he’d passed Dave Dalton.  A short time earlier, the long time veteran had also turned around to drop a dog.  Casavant joked that Dalton was likely glad to gain a little extra time on him.  

The beginning of the race has been a mix of emotions for rookie Cody Strathe as well.  The Fairbanks rookie arrived in Pelly Crossing with a  stern look on his face.  He immediately asked for a veterinarian. “My main leader is probably gonna stay here, which means I’ve only got two other good leaders and one of them is only a two year old.” Strathe says the idea of losing a main leader got him down during the 73 mile run between Carmacks and Pelly Crossing.  He blames his rookie status on what he calls a ‘rollercoaster of emotions.’ “All the time up and down.  Oh my God, my dogs are so awesome, oh my God, my dogs are falling apart, oh my God, I’m not gonna make it to Pelly, oh I’m gonna be the first one to Dawson." he laughs.  "Sometimes I feel like I am racing and sometimes I feel like I need to stay here for 12 hours and pick up the pieces.”

An emotional Lance Mackey parked his team next to Strathe’s in the Pelly crossing dog yard.  The four-time Quest champion is struggling to keep his race together after his team decided to quit eating and drinking.  At the McCabe Creek dog drop, he pulled his team up to the dog truck, ready to scratch.  But with a little encouragement from his handler’s he’s decided to press on.  “I’ve run ‘em short, staying long, I’ve been running long, going short, straight water, baited water, straight kibble," Mackey rolls his eyes.  "I’m trying everything.  For the first time, from McCabe to here, they actually finally ate the snacks that I gave them.”

Mackey’s pride is clearly wounded.  He’s never finished lower than third place in the six Quests he has run and he has never scratched from the race. "This was the team to beat man, no doubt in my mind," he grumbles.  "I mean I have a nice little team when they move and eat but it goes in spurts.  I’ll go good for a couple hours and then they’ll just fall on their head.”

But one musher whose race is going according to plan is the always smiling Abby West.  Over a bowl of soup in Pelly crossing, she couldn’t help but talk up her team. “I’ve got some of ‘em that are my buddies.  I’m like ‘You’re spending every night in the house from now on!’ So we’ll see.” her cheeks turn red as she smiles broadly.

West says she’s training up her team for a more competitive effort next year.  In the mean-time, her plan is to enjoy the warmer weather as she leads the middle of the pack toward Dawson City.