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Top of the World 350 honors Chief Isaac Juneby

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Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012 7:02 am | Updated: 7:04 am, Thu Dec 27, 2012.

FAIRBANKS — Lance Mackey, a four-time winner each of the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod Trail sled dog races, is among 23 entries in the inaugural Top of the World 350 that runs out and back from Tok to Eagle.

The race begins at 9 this morning with a mass start in Tok.

Hugh Neff, the 2012 Quest winner, and Jody Potts developed the idea for the race, which also is a tribute to Chief Isaac Juneby, who died July 1 in a car accident in Anchorage.

Juneby, 71 at the time of his death, had been in Anchorage visiting his sister, Ellen Rada, at the Alaska Native Medical Center.

Rada, 58, was hospitalized after being found beaten, unconscious and seriously injured June 28 near a homeless camp off the Johansen Expressway in Fairbanks. Rada died July 8.

“I had been traveling in Australia when I heard that her (Potts) aunt and uncle had died within a week of each other,” Neff said Wednesday by cellphone. “This is something I’ve wanted to do for the past few years. It’s a way to help people heal in a positive light, and I think Chief Isaac would be proud of what we’re doing.”

Juneby also was a musher and had volunteered in with the Quest in recent years. Each of the Top of the World 350 mushers are carrying a piece of memorabilia from Juneby to present to the residents in Eagle Village, where the mushers will spend Friday.

A potlatch and traditional dance will be conducted Friday in the Eagle Village Hall, which also will be the site of a ceremony to honor Juneby.

Besides honoring Juneby, Neff wanted to develop the race because of his love of the land near his hometown of Tok.

“I just love the land. It’s remote and yet there’s lots of wildlife,’’ he said. “It’s a very historical area for all of the local Natives.”

Other entries in the Top of the World 350 include Quest veteran Mike Ellis; fellow Quest veteran Gerry Willomitzer, a winner of the 2011 Yukon Quest 300; Big Lake’s Jake Berkowitz, the recipient of the 2012 Iditarod Rookie of the Year honor; and Michael Telpin of Chukotka, Russia, and the recipient of the red lantern honor for finishing in last place in the 2012 Quest.

After the mushers leave Tok today, they will travel 175 miles to Eagle. Along the way, they will encounter several hills and pass three peaks — Mount Fairplay, with a 5,526-foot elevation; Mount Polly (3,700 feet); and American  Summit (3,480 feet).

The race restarts at 2 p.m. Saturday in Eagle, where mushers leave in two-minute intervals. There will be a four-hour mandatory layover and time adjustments in Chicken.

“It’s one of the toughest mid-distance races in the world,” Neff said. “It’s old-school mushing at its finest. It’s not about the fancy gear and fancy dogs; it’s about being as good at the end as you were at the start.”

Neff said the purse amount will be determined when the mushers get to Eagle.

“It’s really not a race about the money. It’s more about spirit,” he said.

According to the race’s website (www.topoftheworld350.com)the race’s entry fee was $200 and each team was limited to 14 dogs.

Neff said the first musher is expected to reach the finish line in Tok sometime Sunday afternoon or evening.

A mushers banquet is scheduled for Monday night in Tok.

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