FAIRBANKS — In a race known for its extraordinary obstacles this year, Two Rivers rookie Allen Moore managed to miss at least one on the Yukon Quest trail.
Moore avoided the worst of the heavy overflow outside of the Circle checkpoint. He saw where other mushers had sunk into water over their waists and was able to take the best route, only getting his feet wet. But an hour outside of Fairbanks, Moore’s team started to detour when they saw spectators on the banks of the Chena River. Moore went to get them, but in the process fell into the water, getting soaked.
“So I slid up on the ice like a penguin and said ‘It’s never too late,’” he said.
Moore made it through the finish chute in Fairbanks at 6:44 p.m. Wednesday. With the next mushers just out of the Mile 101 checkpoint and an eight-hour layover at Two Rivers, the next musher won’t be in until late tonight.
On Wednesday morning, Fox musher Ken Anderson followed champion Dallas Seavey and runner up Sebastian Schnuelle into Fairbanks at 1:36 a.m. Anderson had been the second musher out of Two Rivers, despite being first into the checkpoint located at 53 Mile of Chena Hot Springs Road. He was assessed a 30-minute penalty for not properly signing out of the previous checkpoint, Mile 101 on the Steese Highway. Anderson left 13 minutes after Seavey, but moved slowly down the trail and was quickly passed by Schnuelle.
Kelley Griffin was the fifth musher in Wednesday. Griffin had been a solid middle-of-the-pack musher, and was surprised that she had moved into fifth place quickly after multiple mushers scratched or withdrew.
“I went to sleep in Central at about 9 and woke up at 2 and was in 6th place or something like that,” she said. “I should go to sleep more often.”
She said it was tough to watch her competitors drop off. A seven-time finisher, Griffin scratched in 2005. She said that scratching was a feeling she wouldn’t wish on anyone, but was an inevitable part of competition.
“It sucks to not beat them to the finish line, but getting to the finish line is part of the game too.”
Tok musher Hugh Neff, who led the race from Braeburn to Central, finally spoke about what happened as he tried to climb Eagle Summit on Monday. Neff told Whitehorse radio station CKRW that he tried to take his dogs up several times, but was forced to come down when he realized his team couldn’t make it up the summit, where winds were blowing badly. His dog Geronimo died in the attempt.
In a statement, the Quest said that a necropsy showed that Geronimo had aspirated vomit. The necropsy revealed no trauma or abuse.
Neff suffered frostbite on his hands, but said he hopes to heal for the Iditarod. He said he would never run the Quest route from Whitehorse to Fairbanks again.
“The trail for the dogs should be fair,” he told CKRW. “To try and go over a steep mountain at the end of a race can make for a dangerous situation.”
Despite his struggles, he realized that there were things in the race beyond any musher’s control.
“We’re just ants on a big planet called Earth,” he said. “When Mother Nature kicks up we just have to survive her wrath.”
Kasilof rookie Johannes Rygh was withdrawn from the race in Circle to ensure his safety and that of his dog team. Rygh was the 12th musher to end his time on the trail. Now seven mushers are on their way toward Fairbanks. The lowest number of competitors to finish was 11 in 2006; however, fewer started and only 11 scratched that year.
Contact features writer Suzanna Caldwell at 459-7504.