They’re simply known as “Earl and Sandy” and their hospitality is legendary among mushers in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
Every year, the couple welcomes mushers to stop at their rustic, hand-crafted cabin in Canada along the banks of the Fortymile River.
A warm, crackling fire with nearby cots and chairs await mushers inside. Cheesecakes, salads and hearty dishes crowd the counters while stew simmers on an old Monarch wood stove. Outside, another fire heats a 55-gallon drum of water so that mushers don’t have to melt snow for water.
“Earl and Sandy’s place is probably the closest thing to heaven on the trail,” said veteran YQ musher Mike Ellis. “It’s the kind of place you walk in and you pull your parka off and before you can even look for a place to hang it, someone’s grabbing it out of your hand and hanging it up by the wood stove in the perfect spot.
Earl, who traps and builds log cabins for a living, built his 30 square-foot home in an abandoned asbestos mining town known as Clinton Creek. It sits near the confluence of the Yukon and Fortymile rivers.
Although their homestead is connected to the road system, it’s so remote that even mushers consider it to be in the middle of nowhere. Yet his cabin is easy to find on the river.
“My wife, she’s got a little bit of a wild side to her,” said Earl. “She was looking through the Internet for neon signs and said, ‘We’ve got to get this and put it out there.’”
Well it turned out to be a flashing neon sign reading, “Live Nudes.”
Earl said the only nudes at the cabin are the dogs, but the mushers usually get a good chuckle out of the sign.
While the sign is a relatively new addition, Earl said he and his wife are veteran hosts of the Clinton Creek Hospitality Stop. They took over from a distant neighbor upstream who hosted the mushers before moving away.
“The locals in Dawson asked if we would take over,” he sad. “We thought we’d give it a try for a year.”
But one year turned into ten and counting.
Using a snow machine, Earl also helps break 50 to 100 miles of trail each year when he puts in trails for trapping.
“My trap line turns into the Quest trail,” he said.
His section guides mushers from Canada to the Alaska town of Eagle and it’s of a quality he’s proud of.
“There’s only four categories of trail breakers – there’s damn good, good, bad, or piss poor.”
He said the trail coordinator for the Alaska side, Mike Reitz, once commented, “I consider [Earl] damn good.
Most mushers agree that Earl and Sandy are in the damn good category for many things, although they do add an extra challenge for mushers.
“They make it hard to leave,” said veteran musher Ryne Olson who stopped at their place this year. “I think people end up staying there a lot longer than they anticipated.”
That’s okay by Earl who said he once hosted Lance Mackey for ten hours during a race. He said that he likes the company but has no desire to leave with the mushers – at least not on a dog team.
He likes dogs, but prefers snow machines for winter travel. That’s why he’s got 13 of them.
“When I put the snow machine away, it’s nice and quiet,” he said.
And Sandy? She couldn’t be reached for this article. Earl was passing through town on a snow machine, but Sandy was busy.
Hosting mushers, of course.