Summit Quest 300 mushers worked their way to the finish line in Central throughout Monday night and Tuesday, with the final two mushers expected Tuesday night.
Racers on the trail late Monday were wowed by a bold show of northern lights during their final 70 mile run, while Tuesday’s finishers were slowed by fresh snow.
Top rookie this year was Adam Lindenmuth of Willow, who finished in fourth at 11:17 p.m. Monday under beaming northern lights.
“I can’t think of a better way to end a race than having that going off,” he said.
Lindenmuth had a harrowing experience tumbling down the wrong side of Rosebud Summit early in the race, so he took an extra two hours rest at Mile 101 Checkpoint to recuperate. That extra time meant he only had four hours mandatory rest at the final checkpoint of Circle, which he said allowed him to sneak ahead of others for the final stretch.
Speaking of the two 70-mile runs along Birch Creek, both to and from Circle Checkpoint, Lindenmuth acknowledged that back-to-back 70s on four hours of rest was a bit of a gamble.
“I was prepared to take extra rest over the mandatory going into Circle, but the dogs were all stoked. … A lot of these guys, their first race was the Copper a few months ago. A lot of unproven dogs that turned out to be rockstars,” he said.
Former Quest 300 champion Ben Good of Fairbanks secured fifth place and became the last musher to receive prize money after he passed rookie Eddie Burke Jr. of Nenana about 15 miles from the finish. Good finished at 12:35 a.m. Tuesday, just two minutes before Burke Jr.
Good’s top five finish was despite taking approximately three hours extra rest along the trail throughout the race, a strategy most mushers avoided because of long mandatory rests at checkpoints.
“That was the race plan all along because I have a young team, I wanted them to gain some confidence,” Good said, adding that this was the first 300 mile race for both of his leaders, Foxy and Chummy.
Good said the aurora borealis display on Monday night tied for the best he’s ever seen and was easily the race highlight. “Trying to focus on the dogs and keep them lined out and watch the lights at the same time, it was just a phenomenal run in.”
Burke Jr. tried to stay in a position to re-pass Good before the finish, until his team got twisted up, “And with that short tangle he was able to break the draft and put in that several minute lead on me,” Burke Jr. said.
Still, Burke Jr. credited his inexperienced team of dogs with a remarkable race. “They never ran over 15 miles before this race, they never even ran at night time,” he said.
Fellow Summit Quest rookie Dan Powell of Fairbanks also had young dogs. Powell previously took a long 12 hour rest in Central after a rough trip down Eagle Summit. He hit the finish in Central on Tuesday morning in eighth place.
While descending Eagle Summit, Powell said his dogs got away from the trail and encountered some ice. “The dogs all went down on the ice, and the sled went down on the ice, and I went down on the ice. It was kind of a little mess there for a minute,” he said.
The most challenging part of Powell’s race was pressing on after the crash, after which he dropped three dogs. “The puppies bounce back, they’re super dramatic with injuries like that, but they also recover really quickly,” he said.
Powell was also treated to the “incredible display of aurora,” but he chose a different race highlight. “The fact that it wasn’t super cold running that second leg on Birch Creek, I’d say that was the highlight.”
Contact Robin Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org