WHITEHORSE, Yukon – For the first time since 2003, the mushers and dogs competing in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest will ride in a truck between the Braeburn and Carmacks checkpoints.
The Yukon Quest announced last month that teams would be required to truck the 77 miles from Braeburn, the race’s first checkpoint about 100 miles from Whitehorse, to Carmacks, the second checkpoint.
Teams will not be allowed to leave Carmacks until 12 hours have passed from their arrival at Braeburn.
The decision was made because of poor trail conditions, mainly a lack of snow between the Braeburn and Carmacks checkpoints. A good portion of the 30 teams in this year’s field, including Nathaniel Hamlyn, said trucking adds a wrinkle to the race but that the dogs should respond well.
“The trucking really shakes things up,” said Hamlyn a 24-year-old from Whitehorse who began his second 1,000-mile Quest on Saturday after being last year’s Red Lantern. “It’s a whole new strategy, but I’m not really worried about that. All this winter, I’ve been trucking to find snow. My dogs are really used to the box and they like it in there.”
In addition to the trucking requirement, the Quest also stated that mushers can choose to start with as few as eight dogs. They’ll then be allowed to add a couple dogs – or fill their team to the maximum of 14 – at either Carmacks or Pelly Crossing, the third checkpoint.
Jim Lanier, a longtime Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race veteran who made his Quest debut Saturday, said the trucking aspect of this year’s race did force mushers to make a decision of which dogs to sit at the start.
“That consideration does affect which dogs you’re not going to run,” said Lanier, a 78-year-old from Chugiak.
Hamlyn said his plan was to hold a leader or two back in order to help them conserve energy before the 210-mile run between Pelly Crossing and Dawson City, the final checkpoint on the Canada side.
“That run from Pelly to Dawson really takes a lot out of them, so if you can have a fresh leader, that’ll make a big difference,” he said.
Gatt first to Braeburn
Hans Gatt, the only musher in this year’s field with four 1,000-mile titles on his resume, was the first to arrive at Braeburn, doing so at 7:17 p.m. Alaska time Saturday. The 60-year-old from Whitehorse was second to leave the start line.
Gatt completed the 89.7-mile run to Braeburn in 9 hours and 14 minutes. Allen Moore, the defending 1,000-mile champion, was seven miles away from Braeburn at press time. It’s an impressive feat for Moore, who drew bib No. 26 and was among the last teams to leave Whitehorse Saturday morning.
Longtime veteran Dave Dalton, a Healy resident who drew bib No. 12, was nine miles from Braeburn at press time.
Late start for Norris
Fairbanks rookie Lisbet Norris drew bib No. 14 and was scheduled to leave at 10:42 a.m. Alaska time, though she wasn’t able to get her team to the start line at that time.
Because she was late arriving, her team was bumped to the bottom of the pack and became the last team to leave the start line. The mishap proved costly, as her run-time still began when she was scheduled to originally leave.
Each of the teams had a Quest rider behind them when they traveled through the start chute Saturday morning. Sam Lacoursiere, a 24-year-old from Whitehorse, received the ride of her life.
Lacoursiere was picked as the guest for the Whitehorse Star – Whitehorse’s marquee newspaper – and was given the opportunity to ride behind Denis Tremblay at the head of the pack for the first 1½ miles of the race.
For Lacoursiere, who was attending her first sled dog race, the opportunity triggered some exciting – yet nerve-wracking – thoughts in the minutes leading up to the race.
“It’s going to be pretty overwhelming, I think,” she said before the race. “I’m more excited than nervous, I think people will tell me what to do. I’m the first one, off the hop, that gets to go. I’ve never seen sled dogs before, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Follow News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal on Twitter at @FDNMQuest for updates from the Yukon Quest trail.