The glow of a headlight could be seen coming off the Pelly River. The dogs crested over the banks and Canadian musher Michelle Phillips raced into the checkpoint on Sunday. Her team didn’t want to stop; they shot past the entrance, past the Yukon Quest officials before finally braking.
During the 200-mile journey from Dawson City, Phillips leap-frogged Brent Sass on the trail.
“We just broke our runs off differently,” Phillips said
Phillips arrived in Pelly with 12 dogs, and said they did great, however, she will be dropping Mac, continuing the race with 11.
“There was a lot of moose out there so he fell in a moose hole but the rest look really good," she said.
With Whitehorse and the finish line of the 1,000-mile race looming ever closer, Phillips said the competitiveness of the race is beginning to materialize.
“We definitely are keying off each other,” Phillips said about keeping pace with Sass. “I can’t let him get too far away.”
As the front-running Canadian and one of two mushers based in the Yukon, Phillips was greeted at the checkpoint by friends and fans. This, she said, was a good boost.
“It’s kinda nice, medicare,” said a laughing Phillips. “It’s kind of looking like going home. It’s always a good mental pick-me-up.”
Once she passed the mandatory gear check, she was given a gift by Freida Alfred of the Selkirk First Nation.
“Because she was first to the Pelly checkpoint it’s a gift of mitts from Selkirk First Nation,” Alfred said.
The mittens were made by Lucy Carrier, a Selkirk First Nation elder, using beads and moose leather. Phillips was also given a hat knitted by Jada Joe.
Alfred said the tradition has been going on for many years, even with the 300-mile race. She was pleased to present the gift to a Yukoner.
“It’s exciting, it’s been a while,” Alfred said. “Especially (nice to) give it to a lady. I am rooting for Michelle.”
At 11:07 a.m., Brent Sass glided into Pelly Crossing. On the river, his voice cut through the peaceful silence. “Good dogs” he would repeat. While about to pass under the Pelly bridge, his dogs left the trail.
“You’re going the roundabout way,” Sass laughed. A series of whistles got the dogs back on track.
He didn’t stay long at the checkpoint. Sass was gone in eight minutes. He did the mandatory gear inspection while the race veterinarians checked the heartbeat of the team. Then, he sliced open his drop bags, restocked his supplies and was off toward McCabe Creek.
Alfred also had a gift for Sass, a pair of moccasins.
“Wow, holy buckets,” exclaimed Sass as he opened the gift. A big smile was spread across his face. “Wow, thank you, they’re beautiful.”
Sass arrived with 12 dogs and left with 11. His dog Jeep, the only dog on his team he didn’t raise, was left at the checkpoint.
He purchased Jeep from his late friend Joee Redington’s widow, Pam. Raised as a sprint runner, Redington always told Sass Jeep would make a great distance dog.
Ida Mortensen, one of Sass’s handlers, said Jeep is doing fine, he was just getting tired and was unable to keep pace with the rest of the team.
As Sass continued down the trail, Phillips began to prepare her team after a brief rest. She asked her dogs if they were “ready to go” and they popped up to their feet. She left at 11:56 a.m.
Two mushers scratched from the 37th annual Yukon Quest today. Veteran musher Dave Dalton, who was running his 30th and final Quest, turned back to Dawson City and scratched for the well-being of his team, which had contracted a stomach virus.
Two Rivers musher Chase Tingle also scratched this afternoon in Dawson. He said it was in the best interest of his team, which had contracted a stomach virus. That leaves 11 teams en route to Whitehorse.
Olivia Shank-Neff is the current red lantern.
According to the Yukon Quest, the Yukon side of the trail had plenty of snow with little overflow or jumble ice. Temperatures were hovering around zero degrees Fahrenheit.