FAIRBANKS — Laura Neese won’t be competing in this year’s Yukon Quest 1,000-mile International Sled Dog Race.
The 22-year-old musher from Nature’s Kennel in McMillan, Michigan, was forced to scratch from the race after her drop bags were ruined ahead of Saturday’s food drop in Whitehorse, Yukon, where the race begins Feb. 2.
“After I got (the bags) shipped up from down here, I called the Whitehorse terminal and let them know they were coming, their estimated time of arrival and to keep them outside where they’d stay frozen,” Neese said Wednesday during a phone interview. “I thought that was enough, so I didn’t really follow up after the bags got there. So it was as much my fault as the shipping company.”
Quest officials went to pick up her bags Friday, though they quickly realized something horrible had happened.
“I got a call a day before the drop bags were due from the Quest,” Neese said. “They had gone to check on them and to get everything ready for the next day, and they found them inside, where they were sitting in a heated warehouse for six days. The meat was just rancid and had leaked over all the rest of the critical things for the race.”
Neese, who finished third in last year’s 1,000-mile race with a total time of 10 days, 4 hours and 18 minutes, contemplated her options to see if she could still get things in order to compete in the Quest.
“I went over all of our options, whether they were truly possible or not,” she said. “I decided it just wasn’t possible to put the bags back together starting from scratch and have them shipped 3,000 miles up there again, all in time before the race.”
The veteran from Michigan wasn’t quick to blame the shipping company for keeping the bags, which contained food for the dogs and other essential materials she would use along the trail.
“It was really just a mistake not due to just one single person,” Neese said. “I was ahead of schedule getting everything packed, just felt really great about the whole thing. I had it shipped up to Whitehorse with plenty of time to spare before the bags were due, and that earliness probably wasn’t a great thing.”
She’s already got a new race schedule prepared, and she’s focused on competing in races in Idaho, Michigan and Maine. Still, even with different races on the horizon, the thought of missing out on what would’ve been her fourth Quest start remains an open wound.
“It’s a huge, huge disappointment and letdown,” Neese said. “I’ve already got a new race schedule race, just trying to focus on new things instead of getting pulled down by the disappointment.”
The Quest veteran is doing her best to remain positive, though, noting that her team of dogs are taking strides that she believes will lead to success down the road.
“It’s been a fun year,” she said. “I have a fun team and some youngsters coming up that are learning the ropes and mingling really well. They’ll be ready for the future.”
Trail changes on Canada side
On Monday, the Quest announced changes to the trail for the first half of the race.
Mushers will have the choice to start the race with a team of eight to 14 dogs. Teams will run to Braeburn — the first checkpoint, located about 160 miles from the start.
From there, because of low amounts of snow, teams will be required to truck to Carmacks, the second checkpoint about 120 miles away from Braeburn.
Teams will have to wait 12 hours after arriving in Braeburn before continuing the race. At that time, mushers will be able to add their remaining dogs to their team if they chose to begin with fewer dogs.
The location of the mandatory vet check will be determined at a later date.
Dawson City dog yard
The Dawson City dog yard will be located on Bonanza Road for a second straight year. The decision, which was also announced Monday, was made to ensure the safety of the teams with the current river conditions.
This year’s YQ300 — the Quest-organized 300-mile race — will be a 200-mile race because of a lack of snow on the Canada side.
Like the 1,000-mile race, the YQ300 will begin Feb. 2 in Whitehorse. The YQ300 teams will travel to Braeburn before looping back to Whitehorse via Coghlan Lake.
There will be a time restriction implemented for slower teams to ensure there is support for all YQ300 teams to finish safely.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMQuest and @FDNMSportsGuy.