Sunday, February 2, 2014

Out on the Quest trails...

Yesterday Trish and I made the drive to town to watch the start of the 2014 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. We were running a bit late, so missed the first 3 mushers to start, but we had a great view of the others from our perch on the second floor of the downtown parking garage. For example, I captured this image of Allen Moore as his team trotted down second avenue with Aliy Zirkle and his official starter on the tag sled.

Allen Moore's team on 2nd Avenue, Fairbanks.
Once back at the house Trish did some sewing to repair her heavier winter coat while I installed a couple of new light fixtures. With a crock-pot of moose stew simmering and a loaf of bread baking in the oven we were settling in for a quiet evening at home when the phone rang.

It seems that volunteers were needed to staff the road crossing at 27 mile Chena Hot Springs Road to help the Yukon Quest 300 mushers cross. We rushed through our kennel chores and headed out the door with a picnic basket of sandwiches, a thermos of coffee and not much else.

We spent from about 7 o'clock to a bit after midnight in the midst of nowhere, trying to keep motorists from running over the crossing dog teams. It did have some challenges. One fellow who wanted to stop in "our" pull out to shoot some photos nearly ran me over, and as the last team crossed a motorist clearly on his way home from an evening spent in the bar at either Angel Creek Lodge or Chena Hot Springs Resort crept closer and closer. He only stopped, at the very edge of the trail crossing, when Trish and I both stepped in front of him. The team that was crossing became very confused by the car practically in the middle of their trail. The leaders balked and an impressive tangle resulted. No lasting harm was done in either case. We got home about 12:30 this morning. The moose stew was welcome, and quite tasty.

As of this morning, Brent Sass is in the number 1 spot, doing his "Wild and Free Kennel" thang. He's been resting his dogs on the trail rather than the checkpoints. Consequently he spent only 9 minutes in the Two Rivers Checkpoint, and literally blew through Mile-101, signing in and signing out in the same minute. According to the live tracker he is already over Eagle Summit and now moving at about 9 mph toward Central. He will have to declare his mandatory layover there. He currently has what appears to be a nice lead, but will likely be passed by other teams while serving his mandatory rest time.

Nine mushers are currently shown as being at the Mile-101 checkpoint, and many of them have enjoyed a long break there, completing their mandatory layovers. They will probably start moving out very shortly, and be arriving at Eagle Summit just in time to take advantage of dawn's early light to go down the notoriously steep side of the big hill.

The YQ-300 race started three hours after the 1,000 mile. Currently the live tracker for the 300 shows Aliy Zirkle in lead, already over Rosebud Summit en route to Mile-101. In that race there appears to be two distinguishable groups of musher. The front runners are all pretty close to Aliy while those in the second 'pack' seem to be about 20 miles (roughly 2 to 3 hours running time) behind.

Over the next couple of days we should see the field starting to spread out as faster teams gain ground and slower teams lose some. Today the mushers are negotiating some rough, back country terrain. By this evening I would expect to see the competitive teams to be at or beyond Circle City. From there they will stay on the Yukon River all the way to Dawson, where they have a mandatory 36 hour layover.

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