2020 Yukon Quest

Nora Sjalin fixes her belt in Eagle. Lex Treinen/KUAC

Torsten Kohnert has run plenty of Yukon Quests, six in fact. The 48-year-old has an intense stare and a pugnacious slouch as he walks.

After the Yukon River, that walk includes a limp.

“It’s just I twisted my ankle at that one bad section there, just got caught between a chunk of ice and the sled,” he said while preparing his team for the next run over American Summit.

He said he didn’t really enjoy the Yukon, which he’s seen many times in his years doing the race. This year, he said it was particularly windblown.

“It was pretty windy, lots of head-on wind and windblown areas with no trail or drifted in trails or a lot of snow, sugary, slow-going,” he said.

So bad that he couldn’t find the trail markers, usually spaced every hundred meters or so.

“They’re spread out and some are knocked over or blown away or something so sometimes you’re most of the time you can see the next marker but not always,” he said.

It led him off course at least once to avoid overflow, though he said the overflow wasn’t as bad as usual.

Kohnert wears a black T-shirt that reads “I don’t need no government to hold my hand” underneath his parka.

He departed the Eagle checkpoint several hours ahead of his Swedish countrywoman, 31-year-old rookie Nora Sjalin, and the two could hardly be more different.

Sjalin is ebullient, goofy and eternally optimistic. In the dog yard preparing for the next section of trail, she gives her take on the same stretch of river that beat up Kohnert.

“Beautiful and windy,” she said.

She even looked forward to the jumble ice — one of the most feared and hated obstacles mushers encounter on the Yukon. Sjalin relished it.

“This sounds horrible, but I was happy with a little bit. At least I got to see it ... because I heard about it, but it was yeah, there doesn’t have to be more of it, just a little bit just so I got a taste of it,” she said.

After the Yukon, she joked that at some points along the river, she felt like a newbie, even though she is actually a kennel manager for an outfit in Norway.

“Did I fall? I don’t know, I’ve been falling a lot. Some places I’m like, man, I’ve never driven a sled before. Not last night, I think it was fine. I don’t remember, maybe,” she said.

Just about her only complaint, she said, is her MP3 player. She said she didn’t read the owner’s manual before starting the race. Now the five songs she has are looping endlessly, just like the turns of the trail.

“I need to Google it in Dawson, because I love the ‘House of the Rising Sun,’ but it’s kind of a lot,” she said.

Lex Treinen of KUAC-FM is covering the 2020 Yukon Quest through its finish in Whitehorse, Yukon.