Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday Morning Twists and Turns

Hugh Neff's Geronimo - Run free in the Spirit land.
Eagle Summit Kicks Butts

Back in Hudson Stuck's day Eagle Summit was a real arse-kicker, and it remains so more than a century later.  Most years it knocks a few teams out of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, but this year it has also claimed a life - that of Hugh Neff's lead dog Geronimo.  Very little in the way of details have been released, but here is what I've been able to learn thus far. 

Hugh left Central early yesterday morning, a bit more than an hour before the second place team even arrived.  He had a relatively easy run to the base of Eagle Summit when things took a turn toward bad.  As he attempted to climb the summit in the teeth of a roaring gale his team balked and bolted back down to the more sheltered area at the base of the climb.  Hugh was hunkered down there for quite some time before making another attempt.  At one point Ken Anderson let both his own team and Hugh's to the top of the slope, but Hugh's dogs bolted again, and Ken continued on. 

Last night Dan Kaduce came up to about the same place in the trail, and then mushed his team to the Steese Highway and sent for help.  At this point we don't know if the assistance was requested for Hugh and/or his dog or for an issue Dan was facing.  In either event, one of Hugh's lead dogs, Geronimo, died before the two teams could be transported to the Mile 101 checkpoint.  Hugh and Dan have both scratched.

Sebastian Schnuella's team climbed the face like old professionals, allowing him to arrive first into the checkpoint.  A photo taken by Fairbanks Daily News-Miner photographer John Wagner captures a good view of the climb.

While Sab was resting his team, Ken Anderson drove his 8 dogs straight through.  Unfortunately, he forgot to sign out as he left the checkpoint, and has drawn a 30 minute time penalty for his lapse.  Dallas Seavey also blew through the checkpoint, leaving roughly an hour before Sebastian.

This morning the leader-board shows Ken Anderson into the Two Rivers checkpoint at 4:23 this morning, Dallas in at 4:40 and Sebastian arriving at 5:26.  Live Tracking shows Brent Sass approaching the Two Rivers Checkpoint so he will soon be joining the fray. 

With Ken's 30 minute penalty tacked onto his mandatory 8-hour layover, he will probably be leaving in second place, but only 13 minutes behind Ken Anderson.  Sebastian is eligible to leave third, at 1:26 this afternoon. 

The Two Rivers checkpoint has been moved to make the final leg of the race a bit longer.  The final run into Fairbanks will be about 90 miles, so the mushers will probably need to stop and rest their teams at some point during that journey.  I expect we'll finally know have a winner early tomorrow morning, and I'm hoping I can wake up early enough tomorrow to be able to meet and greet. 

As I noted, details surrounding the death of Hugh Neff's dog Geronimo and the circumstances in which Dan Kaduce scratched are scarce at the moment.  I'll try to provide information as it becomes available to me. 

Gwen Holdman wrote a very nice article on the Yukon Quest site about the challenges of topping a wind-blown summit in the Interior of Alaska called "The Mental Factor" that hints of the importance of a strong spritual & emotional connection between mushers and dogs.  I think it is one of her best articles thus far in the race, and encourage you to read it. 

I'll be getting off duty in just a couple of hours, but have a few errands to run before I can actually head to the house.  Although I thought about trying to make a dash out to the checkpoint, I don't think the timing will work for that.  I'm not sure I can get there before the front-runners leave.  I think that, like you, I'm just going to have to go on about my business and catch up with the race as best I can later on.

Of course, just like the race itself, things can change between now and then.  I could be relieved earlier than scheduled, or I could face driving conditions that are just as hazardous as the conditions out on the sled dog trail.  For me, just like the four mushers who all suddenly have a shot at the first-place money, it is pretty apparent that the high body mass indexed sophisticated adult female has not yet begun to vocalize.

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