Dan Kaduce made it to the finish line at 7:02 p.m. with nine dogs, taking first place in the Summit Quest 300. Deke Naaktgeboren finished second 24 minutes later with 10 dogs. Hugh Neff was poised to finish third. The rest of the pack  was battling their way up and down the cold and circuitous Birch Creek, a section of trail they had to traverse twice. 

The final checkpoint of Circle City was a busy hub Monday. Mushers arrived and departed through sun-streaked, frost-laden forests of black spruce and birch. Later in the day clouds moved in, bringing the possibility of warmer temperatures. 

Although most mushers commented on the cold (unofficial overnight temperature reports ranged from 40 below to 50 below), many hit the checkpoint in good spirits, even more so after learning about the hot food being supplied by volunteers and the Circle Tribal Council. 

Veteran musher Jodi Bailey of Chatanika was prepared to run the race without any official support because of possible COVID-19 complications. She carried with her an unopened one-gallon jug of methyl alcohol for her stove. However, her over-preparedness turned out to be unnecessary, if not good practice. 

“Everywhere we’ve come, the race and the volunteers have done such a fantastic job. …I think that in spite of a little bit of doom and gloom when it all came out, people have really outdone themselves,” she said. 

Bailey, who had just rolled into Circle City checkpoint Monday morning, was vibrant and chipper after a night run along Birch Creek. “Surprisingly beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cold.”

She said carrying a thermometer would be too depressing, but has another gauge to assess temperature, how much her eyelashes are frozen together. 

“My eyelash scale puts it at a solid minus 45 or lower,” she said with a grin. 

Rookie musher Adam Lindenmuth of Willow started the race with a thermometer, but ended up losing it when he tumbled down Rosebud Summit during the Quest’s first big challenge. 

The flat training conditions Lindenmuth encounters in Willow benefited him on Birch Creek, but left his team unprepared for Rosebud Summit. 

“I had some leaders that weren’t really used to that kind of terrain, and they tried to take me down the wrong side. It was the scariest thing I think I’ve ever done,” he said. 

Lindenmuth knew the trail went right, but the dogs were determined to go left. He plummeted downhill for an estimated 500 yards, digging his snow hook in the entire time. 

“It eventually stuck, and I just laid there for like 10 minutes,” he recalled. 

That left Lindenmuth to drive his team back up the hill before rejoining the trail. 

He was still very pleased with his team’s performance. “One of my favorite dogs, Klondike, has just been doing really good. He’s been eating a ton, which is great,” he said. 

And Lindenmuth was in good spirits after the more favorable terrain leading into Circle City checkpoint. 

“At the beginning it was nice, I was like ‘oh, this is really cruisy.” After about 50 miles I was like, ‘Wow, I really wish I had to drive the sled so I could stay awake,’” he said. 

Lindenmuth did squats on his sled to stay warm, got an “awesome” aurora borealis show and reported being “slappy,” a state of sleep deprivation meaning “silly happy.” 

Contact staff writer Robin Wood at medianorthak@gmail.com.