It was far from easy, but Rob Cooke said all the sacrifices and tough stretches on this year’s Yukon Quest trail were well worth it, as he crossed the finish line in Fairbanks Friday afternoon to claim the Red Lantern.
"It was really tough,” said Cooke. "I think I got off lightly in 2013.”
He said so much time and money goes into training for a 1,000-mile race, and joked that all you get in the end is a Red Lantern and a (finisher’s) patch.
“Is it worth it? Absolutely. That patch means so much.”
Several of his fellow finishers welcomed Cooke to Fairbanks, including Normand Casavant, Ed Hopkins, Brian Wilmshurst and Damon Tedford. Previous Red Lantern winners Hank DeBruin and Brian O’Donoghue were also on hand.
Cooke said he made some bad decisions to start the race, and considered scratching a few times, but it was his dog team who got him through it – and one member in particular.
“(Maddie) ran 500 miles in the lead position,” he said, adding many of those miles were in single lead. “She turned the team around. I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for her.”
Travelling at the back of the pack for most of the race, and on his own after Magnus Feren Kaltenborn scratched in Dawson City, Cooke also relied on the support of volunteers at the checkpoint, who he said went above and beyond the call.
"The support from the communities has been absolutely unbelievable."
Asked about his plans for racing the rest of this season, Cooke said he and his wife will take the time to assess the team and decide where to go from there.
"Our main goal of the year was to finish the Yukon Quest and we've done that. The Yukon Quest has been and will always be our priority."
Sixteen of the 26 mushers who started the 2015 Yukon Quest made it across the finish line. The Finish & Awards Banquet will be held Saturday night at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel and Conference Centre.