DAWSON CITY, Yukon — It’s not uncommon for sled dog teams to encounter wildlife on the trail. Whether teams are running through the Yukon or making their way around Alaska, Yukon Quest teams often arrive at checkpoints with various reports of encountering other critters during runs.
This year, teams have had minimal wildlife sightings on the Canada side of the trail, which extends about 400 miles from the start line in Whitehorse to Dawson City, the final checkpoint before teams reach the Alaska border.
However, Chase Tingle, a rookie from Two Rivers, arrived in Dawson on Wednesday with the story of an encounter he won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
After he pulled through the checkpoint and privately conversed with race judge Gerry Willomitzer for a few minutes, the rookie went into story time mode and shared his tale about the wolf that followed his team into the checkpoint.
“Ten miles from town, my dogs started acting funny, like they were picking up on something,” began Tingle, who’s a tall musher who looks like he’d be a natural fit battling for rebounds on a basketball court.
“I was eating a bag of trail mix and they started running faster and their ears perked up. I said, ‘Well, maybe there’s a team up in front.’ So I put the trail mix down and got a better hold of the sled.”
Tingle said he and his team of 12 dogs traveled down a small hill before he noticed that his dogs started looking back in his direction.
“They were looking back. Not at me on the sled, but behind me,” he continued. “I looked back and saw a big dog coming toward me, pretty close.”
At first glance, he thought the animal running toward him was one of Hendrik Stachnau’s Greenland dogs. Stachnau, a rookie from Germany, has a few Greenlands, which are known for being big, powerful sled dogs.
Tingle figured maybe one of Stachnau’s dogs had gotten loose and was chasing after his team.
“Then I realized, ‘That’s not a Greenland! That’s a big gray wolf coming at me!’” he said. “This wolf ended up, I don’t want to say chasing, but he was following intently. He wasn’t out to get us, but he was right on our heels.
“I don’t know what his entire intentions were, but this went on for about a half mile.”
Tingle said the wolf would stop running after the team and then start again, repeating that cycle enough times that things became worrisome.
“I did everything I could to spook him off,” he said. “I banged my snow hooks together and grabbed my ax, waving it and banging it on stuff. I even thought about lighting my fuel bottle and making a Molotov cocktail to spook him away.”
Tingle even yelled, “Yip! Get away from me wolf!” but that didn’t work, either.
“I was glad I had some gas in the tank,” he said. “It was the only time I called (the dogs) up the whole time. I’d say, ‘Let’s get out of here!’”
Eventually, the wolf stopped chasing after Tingle and his dogs, all of which were running the 1,000-mile race to Fairbanks for the first time. The Two Rivers musher had run the Quest-organized YQ300, a 300-mile race, four times before making his long-distance debut.
He said that when he camped about 60 miles out of Dawson on Tuesday night, he heard wolves howling in the distance. He didn’t think much of that experience, though, and noted, “We’re in the Yukon. You should probably hear that kind of stuff.”
Although the cheerful musher knew wolves were out in the wilderness, he never expected to find himself so close to one. After all, he has had plenty of wildlife experiences in the past, but none of them led to a fearful chase.
“I’ve had a lot of wildlife encounters, but I never had one look at me in that way,” he said. “I’ve seen bears and stuff, and we come to mutual agreements to go different ways. But to actually be chased by the animal, that was something new for me.”
Follow News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal on Twitter at @FDNMQuest for updates from the Yukon Quest trail.