Aliy Zirkle is a Quest veteran — she’s competed in the Quest three times, and won first place in 2000, becoming the Quest’s first female champion. This year, she’s taken on the role of handler for her husband Allen Moore, who’s competing.
“The biggest difference I would say was this morning. As a musher, you are 3-2-1 go, and everything that you need, you have to pack before the start. Your sled, your dogs, your underwear — everything has to be packed. Well I had a reality check this morning — when I was trying to get ready and I was kind of stressing about it — that I’m in a truck. And I can stop anywhere and buy water — heck, I could buy underwear if I needed it,” she said, cheerfully. “So this morning, I was thinking, ‘Oh my, I’m really not in as much of a rush as I thought I was.’”
Zirkle has plenty of experience as a handler. While she typically doesn’t serve in the role for the entire race, she’ll often drop in to lend a hand.
“I’ve always stepped in,” she said. “What I usually do is run the 300-race first and then help with handling afterwards.”
Competing in the Yukon Quest 300 before continuing with the full race to help with handling sounds like a lot of work, but rest assured: it’s a walk in the park for Zirkle. A veteran dog-musher, she’s competed in the Iditarod a total of 14 times. When asked about the differences between the Iditarod and the Quest, she didn’t know where to start.
“I could talk to you for, like, 30 minutes about that,” she said. “It’s different in different ways. The Quest is rural, it’s rustic, you’re not gonna see anyone, you’d better have your act together because no one’s gonna come and save your butt. With the Iditarod, there’s a lot more people out there, it’s southern, it’s warmer, but blizzards come from every direction.”
The 18 teams running the YQ300 were making their way toward the first checkpoint at Mile 53 Chena Hot Springs Road late Saturday, with the leaders 15 miles from the checkpoint at 9 p.m.
The teams were strung out along 20 miles of trail.
The YQ300 started at 3 p.m. Saturday, four hours after the first team left the starting line in the main event, the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest. The YQ300 follows the same trail to Circle, at the end of the Steese Highway. Teams pass through Central on their way to Circle, then have to return to Central for the finish.
Need some insight about this year’s race from a pro? This year’s official Armchair Musher for the Yukon Quest is Andy Pace, 2016 & 2019 finisher. You can find his updates at the Yukon Quest website, www.yukonquest.com.
Dalton clears Two Rivers check point
Dave Dalton made his last stop at the Two Rivers Laundry on Saturday.
The laundromat, formerly known as Soapy’s Suds, which lies about 40 miles into the race, has become a regular stop for Dalton in years when the temperature is cold, providing him with a place to dry damp clothes and warm up.
In warmer years he goes across the street to the hay fields.
At 4:30 p.m. Saturday, when Dalton was passing the Two Rivers Outpost, the 25 below air registered cold enough for a laundromat stop.
He parked his team on the side of the road and set out some straw for each dog to rest on.
“I told my dogs this is my last stop here ever,” Dalton said happily after taking off his boots inside the laundromat.
At 9:20 p.m. Saturday, Dalton was just over 7 miles from the Two Rivers checkpoint.
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.
Managing editor Rod Boyce and sports writer Laura Stickells contributed to this story.