Yukon Quest 2020

Richie Beattie leaves the dog yard in Dawson City with his wife and handler Emily Rosenblatt. Beattie was in good spirits Saturday, after falling asleep on his sled and losing his dog team the day prior. John Tonin, Whitehorse Star

On Friday, Two Rivers musher Richie Beattie fell off his sled and lost his dog team just before he reached the halfway point of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. The team was picked up by a Dawson man who rode the sled into the Dawson City checkpoint, about two miles.

Fellow musher Rob Cooke gave Beattie a ride on the runners until they were met by Quest Race Marshal Peter Reuter on a snowmachine. Reuter gave Beattie a ride to where his team was waiting. 

On Saturday, Beattie said he was feeling better after getting 12 hours of sleep during the 36-hour layover. He explained how he lost his dog team.

“Basically, coming in here, I think that’s day six of the race for me and I tallied up eight hours of sleep in six days,” Beattie said. “We are all sleep-deprived, that’s normal, you expect that here. But, I was delirious, man.

“Yesterday morning coming in here I was losing my touch with reality. At times, I would catch myself wondering where I am and what’s going on. I literally had to walk myself mentally through like ‘you’re in the Quest dude, you’re coming into Dawson’, I was losing it, delirious.

“Quite simply, I fell asleep, woke up, and I was hopping back up to my feet and watching my dog team roll away from me.”

Beattie said he knew the dogs were going to be all right.

“I could see Dawson right down the way so I wasn’t too concerned for the dogs’ well being,” he said. “They were trotting along at a slow 7 or 8 miles per hour especially without me. I took off after them but I was so physically spent and didn’t have enough energy to run.

“Luckily Rob came up not too long behind me and I hopped up on the sled with him and he gave me a ride back up there and the dogs were waiting for me up in the chute.”

In all his years of mushing, Beattie said this is the first time he has gone to sleep then fallen off the sled.

“But, throughout my years of mushing and especially during racing, there’s been hundreds of times where I’ve fallen asleep and almost fell off," he said. "I’ve caught myself at the last second.

“When you are out in the middle of nowhere in these far remote locations you grab the handlebar and you’re like ‘dude get it together you can’t lose your team out here’ that’s disastrous.'

“At least when it finally happened to me it happened in the context of where the dogs weren’t running off for another 80 mile stretch in the wilderness. They were just running into a checkpoint where people can secure them.”

Beattie said the dogs are so well trained that they would have followed the trail into the checkpoint.

He said he is now feeling fine, however, he conceded that his ego did take a hit.

“It’s a little bruised and battered but it builds character,” Beattie said. “You learn from your mistakes.”

Waiting for Beattie at the checkpoint was his wife and handler, Emily Rosenblatt, who said she went into panic mode when she realized it wasn’t Beattie guiding the sled.

“I don’t know, I saw the guy come in, and I was taking pictures and I was thinking ‘That’s not Richie, why doesn’t this person have a parka on? Why does this person have a red beard?’” Rosenblatt said. “Then, obviously panic just set in and my head went to the worst possible place.

“I knew Rob was right behind him so I was like hopefully Rob picks him up. Then there was some guy watching from the banks who said ‘he’s not with Rob’ and then I thought ‘is there open water out there? Did he fall in?’ You know, thinking the worst things possible.

“But, I was just happy the dogs looked great coming in, of course I was freaked out about him but was grateful the dogs were happy and all doing really well. And really happy that some strange guy with skis miraculously knew how to stand on a dog sled and carry them to the stop.”

Beattie and Rosenblatt said they’ve been able to laugh about what’s happened and find the humor in it.

When Beattie was reunited with his team, he didn’t go to sleep, he ensured the dogs were well taken care of before hunkering down.

Like his fellow mushers, Beattie said the first half of the journey has been difficult.

“It’s been a tough, tough trail, but you expect that in the Yukon,” Beattie said. “You don’t sign up for the Yukon Quest thinking it will be easy. You’re looking for a challenge, and adversity and figuring out how to become a better musher and a better human through those challenges and the adversity.”

Now on the Yukon side, Beattie said his aim for the rest of the race is to finish strong, with happy and healthy dogs.

Beattie faced no time penalties and is allowed to continue the race. 

John Tonin is a reporter for the Whitehorse Star.