Day five of the 2016 Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race is in the books, with the top five mushers reaching the halfway mark of their race— and a well-earned 36-hour rest— in Dawson City, while the rest of the pack tackles the two long ascents of American Summit.
The excited fans lining the Front Street checkpoint chute were alerted to Sass’s arrival by a wail from the fire hall’s siren, and the defending champion and his team hardly looked any the worse for wear 500 miles in as he slid smoothly across the line just after noon. Canada Border Services agents were there to greet him for a lighthearted and truly Northern document check as Sass rummaged through his dog sled to find his passport. As the first Quest musher to reach Dawson he will have four ounces of Yukon gold to declare on his trip home once he finishes in Whitehorse. The Fellers family of Dawson donate a nugget every year.
Asked about the significance of the extra climbing involved in this year’s course rerouting, Sass responded “Very significant! My legs hurt real bad right now.” He conceded that the steep and prolonged up-hills got to him and his team mentally, but said “they all stayed steady and kept pulling."
“The veteran [dog’s] heads were definitely ready for a river run, and probably my head, too, a little bit, but it worked out fine. We’re here in good fashion,” Sass said.
Veteran musher Allen Moore was second across the checkpoint an hour later and was characteristically stoic about his current standing in the race. “Second still puts you in position to do something, so I’m happy with it,” he said. About the performance and stamina of his team, however, he was emphatic: “They could keep going right now. So in 36 hours, they should look great.”
As for his experience on the 3,651-foot Summit, Moore said he probably should have listened closer during the trail briefing in Fairbanks last week. “I misunderstood the guy when he said ‘there’s a big hill.’ I thought he meant singular. But it wasn’t singular. It was a whole 50 miles.”
“It was pretty, but it’ll take it out of you,” he added.
When he reached the Dawson checkpoint shortly after three o’clock, Hugh Neff was in a gracious and reflective mood, musing on his competitors and the town of Dawson itself. “It’s good to see Brent do well because he definitely puts more into this sport than anybody,” Neff said of Sass. And Allen Moore? “Allen Moore I respect probably more than anybody right now,” said Neff. “He’s an amazing dude.” Scanning the townsite itself, Neff spoke of a rare and special bond to the place. “This is the reason I do the Quest every year. It’s not to win a trophy, it’s to come to Dawson. I just sorta feel like back in time a hundred years ago I might’ve been here before. I just have a connection with this place like no other place on earth. I don’t know what it is.”
Matt Hall and Ed Hopkins rounded out the lead pack of mushers in fourth and fifth, respectively. Hall’s spirits were visibly boosted by his hero’s welcome in his hometown of Eagle yesterday, while Hopkins remains optimistic about his chances of moving up in position over the next half of the race. “Anything can happen and it usually does,” he said, knowingly.
As day five draws to a close the rest of the field looks like this: Torsten Kohnert and Tom Frode Johansen are making their way to Dawson after short rests at 40 Mile; Mike Ellis and Andrew Pace have reached 40 Mile and appear to be taking a break; Yuka Honda, Seth Barnes, and Dave Dalton have all crossed the border and are about to begin their ascent of American Summit; Paige Drobny, Cody Strathe, Luc Tweddell, Laura Neese, and Rob Cooke are all enjoying some downhill grades before tackling the Summit; Gaetan Pierrard , Tore Albrigsten and Sébastien Dos Santos Borges are nearing the end of the first climb out of Eagle; and Hank DeBruin has left Trout Creek and is making his way toward Eagle, where Tony Angelo remains camped.