Two Rivers - 01:00
There was fresh snow on the ground and excitement in the air this morning in Fairbanks as the 33rd Yukon Quest got under way. The 23 mushers and the large enthusiastic crowd who came to cheer them on were greeted by the two inches of light snow that fell overnight and into the early morning. Skies started out overcast but soon turned sunny, with only a faint breath of a north wind and temperatures hovering around the -13ºC / 9ºF degree mark.
With the energetic fans lining the start chute on both sides, 19 year-old rookie Laura Neese went out first, followed by Mike Ellis, Ed Hopkins, Allen Moore and Paige Drobny. Brent Sass and Hugh Neff were fan favourites again this year, with a few “Neffheads” even sporting Neff’s signature Cat in the Hat headgear. Each musher had one lucky Quest Guest winner in tow behind them for the first mile and a half.
As the Yukon Quest competitors wound their way along the Chena River, the 23 mushers of the YQ300 kept the crowd entertained with the start of their race. Of note this year is the fact that almost half of competitors for this event are women.
Conditions on the trail were fast and favourable, with bearable temperatures, minimal overflow along the river ice, and the fresh snow giving the dogs a little extra cushioning. Despite being the last to start today, rookie driver Sébastien Dos Santos Borges was the first to arrive at the Two Rivers checkpoint, coming in at 20:08. He was followed over the next hour by Rob Cooke, Hank DeBruin, and Yuka Honda. Winner of the informal Best Check-In Banter goes to Mike Ellis who, after being told his arrival time of 21:09 remarked, “I’m nine minutes late.”
Some strategic decisions are already being employed even at this early stage of the race, with some of the veterans stopping to rest for several hours just before the Two Rivers checkpoint, then rushing through as other mushers bedded down for the night. Among these were past champions Sass, Neff, and Moore.
Temperatures have dropped significantly since this afternoon’s start, currently sitting at -22ºC / -8ºF with light winds and some ice fog.
At the time of writing 14 mushers are driving through the night toward Mile 101, eight are resting at Two Rivers, with only J. Jay Levy yet to arrive. Brent Sass is our current leader, with Hugh Neff’s lead nipping at his runners, followed closely by Allen Moore. The top five is rounded out by Dave Dalton, Matt Hall, and Tom Frode Johansen.