Day 12: Race Within a Race

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

As six more mushers crossed the finish line throughout the day, another race was developing at the back of the pack.

With the weather on Eagle Summit taking a characteristic turn for the inhospitable as night descended, five mushers found themselves bottlenecked at the Central checkpoint prudently waiting until the winds and snow died down. And so, when reports came in around 0600 that things had calmed, an informal “restart” of sorts was in the making, with Rob Cooke, Brian Wilmshurst, Dave Dalton, Ben Good and Sébastien Dos Santos Borges all departing within twenty minutes of each other in a race for tenth place.

Dalton and Good jumped out in front of the caravan for most of the way up the summit, but Good’s team slowed at the headwall and were passed by a surging Rob Cooke, who arrived into Mile 101 at 11:40, one minute behind Dalton. While Cooke, et al. would rest their teams a few hours, however, the wily Dalton seized the opportunity, hit his drop bags, and was on his way to Two Rivers within 12 minutes of his arrival.

Dalton made it to Two Rivers shortly before 1900, eligible to head for Fairbanks as early as 02:49 tomorrow morning. Cooke is currently the closest to Two Rivers of the chase group, but is still several miles out at day’s end, giving Dalton roughly a six hour head start tomorrow.

Paige Drobny (bib #7, sponsored by The Elbow Room) was the first of the day’s mushers to cross the finish line in Fairbanks, arriving at 02:49. Drobny departed Two Rivers at 17:29 the previous evening with 11 dogs and a 48-minute head start on fourth place rival Ed Hopkins. Drobny and her team were up to the task, however, as they averaged 9 to 10 mph for much of their 9-hour run in, expanding the lead over Hopkins to one hour and 39 minutes, to clinch fourth place and finish her third Quest in a total time of 10 days, 16 hours, 22 minutes.

Fifth place then belonged to Ed Hopkins (bib #18, sponsored by Mecca Bar), who left Two Rivers at 18:19 the previous night and crossed the finish line at 04:28. Greeted by wife and YQ300 champion Michelle Phillips, Hopkins said this was one of the best Quest runs he’s had, though he wishes he could “rewrite” his trip over Eagle Summit where he had to walk his team up the headwall. Hopkins’ total time was 10 days, 17 hours, 37 minutes.

Torsten Kohnert (bib #21, sponsored by The Big I Pub & Lounge) was the next musher in at 09:12, for a total time of 10 days, 22 hours, 12 minutes, good enough for sixth place overall. Kohnert said his favourite moment from this year’s race was being able to run with his headlamp off atop American Summit because the night sky was so clear and the moonlight so bright. 

Seventh place and Rookie of the Year honours went to Kotzebue, Alaska musher Katherine Keith (bib #19, sponsored by Orion’s Belt School of Self Defense). Keith shot out of Two Rivers at 0100 and arrived at the Fairbanks line by 11:48 to a banner signed by all 200 students from the self defense school who had followed her entire race. Finishing with a total time of 11 days, 0 hours, 54 minutes, Keith said her first Quest lived up to its reputation as a tough but beautiful race, and praised all the heartwarming people she encountered along the trail, except the moose that bluff charged her two miles from the finish line. 

Fellow rookie Jessie Royer (bib #1, sponsored by Seekins Ford Lincoln) took eighth place, arriving into Fairbanks at15:38, just 7.5 hours after her midnight departure from Two Rivers. Royer said she was proud she and her team had enough left in the tank to cross the finish line at 10mph after 1,000 tough miles, chalking it up to her strategy of breakneck runs between checkpoints, followed by prolonged rest time (96 hours total). The Fairbanks musher completed her first Quest in a total time of 11 days, 5 hours, 38 minutes.

The day’s final musher was ninth place Ryne Olson (bib #15, sponsored by Trademark Screenprinting). Olson left Two Rivers with her ten dogs shortly before midnight, reaching the finish at 21:29, one of three to make the run in under 10 hours, and completing her second Yukon Quest in a time of 11 days, 10 hours, 47 minutes. Met at the finish line by friends and family, Olson said the biggest challenges she faced were the 40mph winds on Eagle Summit and trying to leave the comfort and catering at the hospitality stops.

Veteran musher Gaetan Pierrard (bib #10) from Whitehorse, Yukon scratched from the race in Central, Alaska this afternoon at 13:30pm. His decision was made for the best interest of his dogs.

Standings as of 11:59PM:

1. Matt Hall
2. Hugh Neff
3. Allen Moore
4. Paige Drobny
5. Ed Hopkins
6. Torsten Kohnert
7. Katherine Keith
8. Jessie Royer
9. Ryne Olson
10. Dave Dalton
11. Rob Cooke
12. Brian Wilmshurst
13. Sébastien Dos Santos Borges
14. Ben Good