The dog yard is filling up in Dawson on the sixth day of the Yukon Quest, as six mushers arrived at the Shaw Direct Checkpoint.
First to show was Torsten Kohnert, easing across the line just before 5am. After his sled and Customs checks he talked about a close call he had near 40 Mile. “I had a little moose attack last night,” said the Swede. “A big bull charged right for the dogs, went by the whole team, I could just have reached and touched him. I yelled at him and then he came towards me and by just a foot passed by the sled, so it was a pretty good wake up call.” Asked about his strategy for the second half of race Kohnert said he hopes to hold to the same pace he’s maintained thus far, at least to Pelly Crossing, but said it might be a tall order to gain any ground on the leaders group. “I’m not sure if I can come in any striking distance to the top five, but we’ll see.”
Next in at approximately 9am was Norwegian rookie Tom Frode Johansen, who was surprised and delighted by the fact that the Border Services agent who greeted him did so in fluent Norwegian. “How’s that for service?” quipped Race Marshal Doug Grilliot. Having reached the halfway mark of his first Quest, Johansen said it has yet to disappoint in either its beauty or challenges. “So many nice experiences of nature. So all my dreams come true when it comes to that,” he told reporters. “Compared to the races we do back home, [the Quest] has all the elements, just bigger.” One new test he’s faced is a type of river ice he’s never encountered. “This jumble ice, this is something that I’ve not done before. I’ve actually been at the North Pole and been in the ice there, but this was worse. You really had to dance into this ice. I broke my sled twice, so I had to do quick repairs.”
At 1pm mushers and handlers gathered to be briefed on the latest trail report by the Trail Coordinator for the Yukon side of the race, Ranger Sergeant John Mitchell. Mitchell cautioned the mushers about minimal snow depths, rough ice, and areas with open water. “The good news is is the trail is slashed the best it has ever been in the history of the race, the bad news is is we got no snow and [the ice] is choppy,” was his blunt thumbnail sketch of the upcoming miles.
When she arrived at the checkpoint around 4pm, Yuka Honda was the first of the day’s mushers who’d had to contend with the, by this time, heavy wet snow that was falling. Honda said the snow slowed her down a bit and she found she was drifting a lot due to the poor visibility.
Seth Barnes and Mike Ellis, too, commented on doing battle with the big white flakes when they pulled into town within about a half-hour of each other. Ellis said his dogs “turned into 14 little bulldozers” to plow through what had fallen on the trail, while Barnes just shrugged and said “That’s what the Yukon Quest is about though, right?”
At day’s end the rest of the field is positioned as follows: Andrew Pace looks to be making the final push to Dawson after resting a spell 20 miles out; on The Top Of The World Highway, travelling partners Paige Drobny and Cody Strathe are taking a breather 34 miles from town, while Laura Neese, Luc Tweddell and Rob Cooke are on the move and all under the 50-mile mark; Tore Albrigsten, Sébastien Dos Santos Borges, and Gaetan Pierrard are happily ensconced at the Clinton Creek hospitality stop; Tony Angelo is camped not far from the Alaska/Yukon border some 34 miles west of 40 Mile; and Hank DeBruin has returned to Eagle. Check the SPOT Live Tracker for up-to-the-minute locations of all the competitors (yukonquest.com/race-central/current-standings/live-tracking).
Meanwhile, as revellers convened at the volunteer appreciation bonfire party, Brent Sass was across the river making final preparations for his imminent departure. His mandatory 36-hour layover is complete as of 12:21am tomorrow morning and he likely won’t leave a minute later so as to preserve or add to his current lead over rivals Allen Moore, Hugh Neff, and Matt Hall.