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Yukon Quest

Veterans Finishing in the Top Ten Consider Their Future

Alistair Maitland
Yukon Quest

Fairbanks, AK - The majority of this year’s dog teams were driven by Yukon Quest Veterans.  A group of experienced mushers in the middle of the pack  say they're working on building young dogs for strong races in the future.

It’s been three years since Normand Casavant last drove a dog team across a Yukon Quest Finish line.  After his dogs came bounding through the chute in seventh place, the French-Canadian jumped off his sled to celebrate with them.  He ran into trouble at the beginning of the race.  He says he let his emotions get the best of him early on in the race.  He tried to scratch twice before he reached the halfway-point in Dawson City. This is his third Quest and highest placement. Casavant couldn’t be more pleased with the young team he’s running.“The dogs I have right now, they’re three, three years and a half and they are my future.” He all but guarantees a return to the Yukon Quest in coming years. “Oh yes," he shakes his head emphatically. "I’m gonna come back for sure.  I love it and couple times I said in French ‘Long life to the Quest!’.”

Abbie West of Two Rivers also came through the finish chute with a broad smile.  It’s her third top-ten finish, but she was focused on bringing up young inexperienced dogs this year. “We are getting better at it though," she smiles. "I keep coming off the Quest.  I have this whole list of things I ahve to write down.  Next year I have to have this, do this, so..." 

Credit Alistair Maitland / Yukon Quest
Abbie West poses with her lead dogs after a third Yukon Quest finish.

West calls herself Abbie ‘Quest’ for a reason.  She’d like to win the race someday, and she may love it just enough to be successful.  “Oh yeah, it's an addiction," she laughs.  "You can't not do it once you do it once.  There actually wasn't even a moment out there where I didn't want to do this anymore, because I’ve had those moments before but definitely not on this race.”

West ran a combination of dogs from her own kennel and a kennel in Chatanika run by Dan Kaduce.  “I was more interested in bringing our inexperienced team as big and fat and happy to the finish as I could pretty happy with where they did finish,” he says.  Kaduce has started eight Quests and completed five.  He’s never finished outside the top ten and despite his 9th place finish this year, he says he wasn’t running a competitive race.  “I kinda had the same dogs forever there for my first six Quests or so and this year there are only two from the old crew left in here so all new dogs.”  In 2011, he ran strong, chasing down then front-runner Hugh Neff all the way to Eagle Summit.  But the the two ran into bad weather and scratched from the race.  It could be that Kaduce had a little so-called business to take care of coming over the summit this year, but he simply attributes his smooth climb to luck. “It’s sad how the conditions up there can make a completely doable thing not doable," says Kaduce.

Credit Alistair Maitland / Yukon Quest
Dan Kaduce gives some thought to whether he'll try for another Yukon Quest run in the future.

"I got up there this year, it was well above zero, almost now wind and we walked right up like it was nothing and I know people who were there just before me saw a nice brisk face wind and it was enough to change their view of the hill.” Kaduce says it’s unlikely he’ll return to the Quest next year, but he is looking over his dogs carefully, to find out who will run in the future. “It all depends on the string of dogs I got," he says.  "If I see a string of dogs that can handle what it takes to be good, we’ll do it.  If I see a string of dogs that just needs to make it, that’s what they’re gonna do.” And there is one dog on his team… “The very last dog I added to the team is a 17 month old female named Bug and she just made it look easy.” Since they finished, Bug and her fellow sled dogs have enjoyed a long rest in Kaduce’s warm garage, with lots of down time and massages from their musher.  There are still a few teams left on the trail. The Red Lantern winner is expected to bring the race to a close in time for the awards banquet Saturday.