DAWSON CITY, Yukon — Dawson City was festive early Tuesday morning when Brent Sass arrived as the first Yukon Quest musher into this fourth — and final — checkpoint on the Canada side of the 1,000-mile trail.
Fans braved 15 below temperatures to line the checkpoint chute as Sass, a Eureka resident who won the 1,000-mile race in 2015, pulled into the checkpoint at 10:24 a.m. Alaska time.
“I feel great,” said Sass, who fed his dogs a meat snack after they crossed into the checkpoint for the start of their mandatory 36-hour rest here. “I put a schedule together before this race, and I had no intention of being in here first. But here we are.”
Because Sass was the first one to reach the checkpoint, which is about 400 miles from the start line in Whitehorse, he will receive a “poke of gold.”
The poke includes 2 ounces of gold, worth about $2,631 today. If Sass finishes the race — regardless of what place he finishes — he will get to keep the poke. Should Sass scratch before reaching Fairbanks, the poke will go to the next musher who arrived in Dawson and then reached the finish line.
Although Sass acknowledged winning the gold was a nice bonus for reaching the race’s halfway point first, he noted that the honor wasn’t a part of his pre-race list of things he hoped to accomplish.
“It’s not at all on my checklist, really,” he said.
More than anything, Sass was surprised when he woke up at his camp spot about 10 miles past the Scroggie Creek Dog Drop, which is located about halfway between Pelly Crossing, the previous checkpoint, and Dawson.
He had decided to cruise through Scroggie before setting up camp, only to find that nobody really decided to blow past him to take the lead during the final leg of the 210-mile run to Dawson.
“I still don’t know why, like, 10 people didn’t pass me on my last camp stop,” he said with a bewildered tone. “I waited there, Hans Gatt went by me and only went about a quarter mile and stopped, like he was going to wait for me or something. I went by him.”
Sass will be allowed to leave Dawson at 10:24 p.m. Alaska time today for the 150-mile run to Eagle, where he and other mushers will be checked in by race officials and a U.S. customs officer.
Canada’s Michelle Phillips ended up being second to Dawson, arriving 27 minutes after Sass. Gatt, a four-time Quest champion from Whitehorse who is back in the race for the first time since 2011, was third. He arrived at 11:07 a.m. Alaska time, just nine minutes before defending champion Allen Moore arrived in fourth.
Moore, of Two Rivers, was in a joyful mood after pulling into the checkpoint chute. He joked about the four teams being less than an hour apart from one another, adding it was a welcome change after he steamrolled the field to earn his third 1,000-mile Quest victory a year ago.
“It’s kind of fun,” Moore said. “A lot of times, like last year, I never saw anyone for the whole race. This year we’re all seeing each other and looking at what each other are doing at checkpoints and when we’re doing our routines.”
Moore said he caught a glimpse of Phillips’ team early Tuesday morning and was impressed with the way they were moving.
“Michelle Phillips looked the best to me when she passed me earlier today,” he said. “Her dogs were flying.”
Phillips, a Quest veteran from 10 Mile, Yukon, said her run from Pelly was uneventful for the most part. She’s competing in her first 1,000-mile Quest since 2011 and said she really enjoyed seeing some of the changes happening as she got closer to Dawson.
“It was really cool to come back and visit the trail,” she said. “I hadn’t been on that trail in so many years, it was really neat to see it. It really always amazes me the amount of ground that has been moved around this area, it’s always cool to see the mining equipment and that stuff.”
When asked about how they will spend their time during the required 36-hour layover in Dawson, where handlers are allowed to take care of the dogs, the majority of mushers had a simple itinerary for the stay: Rest, food and making sure their dogs are OK.
However, Moore had one more thing on his mind when he reached the halfway point.
“It’s always good to come into Dawson, because you know you’re going to get a warm bed,” he said. “Maybe even a hot tub.”
Follow News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal on Twitter at @FDNMQuest for updates from the Yukon Quest trail.