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02-10-20 AM Yukon Quest Update

Lex Treinen

02-10-20 AM Quest Update

Lex Treine, KUAC (Pelly Crossing, Yukon) After running near-identical schedules during the first half of the race, Brent Sass and Michelle Philips decided to take a very different run-rest schedule during their 200-mile stretch of trail from Dawson to Pelly.

Sometime during the moonlit hours of Sunday morning, Michelle Phillips’ team overtook a resting Brent Sass to come into Pelly Crossing first. But Phillips is exhausted. Over the two hundred miles of trail, Phillips took started with a ten-hour unbroken run, then an eight-hour run, then another nearly-ten hour run. It’s an aggressive schedule considering that she had just about four hours of rest between each run.

While she decides to rest in Pelly, she does get a boost from some local fans. Phillips has a lot of friends in Pelly, connections from her years of dog mushing in the Yukon. The executive director of the Selkirk First Nation, Sandy Roach, in fact, is Phillips’s son’s godmother. Roach says that the people of the Yukon are excited to see Phillips in first.

“Oh I've just been watching some of the Facebook posts and just talking to the community here and everybody's just so proud and so happy especially being a woman, you know, there's only been one other woman who has won the Yukon Quest,” she says.

Phillips efficiently gets to work snacking and laying out straw for her team of twelve dogs. She’ll drop one there and then get a few quick hours of sleep. She asks checkpoint volunteers to wake her up at 11 am, less than four hours after she arrived, and the time that her prime competitor Brent Sass is expected to arrive.

Sass is all business when he arrives and is greeted by a team of handlers and helpers - though fewer local fans: this is the Yukon, after all. He quickly shows officials his gear before he can receive a special gift from local craftspeople, just as Phillips did. It’s a pair of beaded moccasins made with moosehide by the local First Nation and he takes a quick moment to accept the gift during his hectic layover in Pelly.

Sass knows he has to make up time on Phillips after he decided to rest four an extra four hours out on trail and he gets a rare chance to do it as Phillips rests. He covered the distance in four more-or-less equal runs, while Phillips used just three. While quickly snacking his dogs, Sass answers a few short questions, though there’s a sense that he’s distracted. "

The dogs are in good shape, they're eating really well and we're moving, you know, we're not making monster time, but we're having a good time,” he says.

But not all are great: he decides to drop one dog, leaving just 11.

"Jeep just can't keep the pace. He did good but time to let him go."

He’s sad to see him go, especially since he was one of the dogs who led him triumphantly into Fairbanks last year. He says he’s still running his own race.

“I kinda was out there but I don't really care, I'm just gonna continue running these guys,” he says. But clearly he’s also competitive.

Talking to his handlers, he adds: “Am I losing time on her?”

He knows he has to get back on the trail, even though he’s already run for five hours straight. He signs the final paperwork, and kicks the sled as he disappears down the road. His total time at the checkpoint was just eight minutes. The race is on. ###

Dan has been in public radio news in Alaska since 1993. He’s worked as a reporter, newscaster and talk show host at stations in McGrath, Valdez and Fairbanks. Dan’s experience includes coverage of a wide range of topics, from wolf control to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and dog mushing.