It was an emotional night of recognition, appreciation and celebration, as the 2014 Yukon Quest came to a close Saturday at the Finish & Awards Banquet.
Held at the Yukon Convention Centre in Whitehorse, and sponsored by Northern Vision Development, the banquet featured live music, a slide show, speeches and of course, the awards presentation.
The top-three finishers in this year’s race each took home a handcrafted knife from Alaska Rod’s. This year’s winner, Allen Moore, received a special Yukon Quest knife, with 2014 Champion engraved on it. He was also presented with a hand-made beaver hat from the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation in Dawson City, and a $1,000 cheque from Northwestel to donate to the charity of his choice. Moore chose to donate it to Yukon Special Olympics.
It was definitely a busy night for Moore and his team. The champion also took home four ounces of Klondike pacer gold from Wendy & Joe Fellers of Fell-Hawk Placers. The gold is presented to the first musher to reach Dawson City and finish the race.
Moore thanked rival Hugh Neff for motivating him to be better, starting with their sprint to the finish in 2012, when Neff beat Moore by just 26 seconds. “Then last year, here it is the end of the race, him and I again. We talked about it at the checkpoint – wouldn’t it be cool if we had some kind of a race like that again? Sure enough, we get to the last checkpoint and we’re 13 minutes apart – déjà vu all over again.”
“I glance over my shoulder, I see a headlamp and I go nuts again. I go nuts for four hours, without looking back again. Ski poling as hard as you possibly can.”
Moore told the crowd when he finally did look back hours later, what he had seen was a trail marker, not Neff’s head lamp. However, he said, that motivation was enough. Moore has gone on to win two straight titles.
Moore’s lead dog, Quito, has also been a large part of his success over the past two Yukon Quests. The recipient of the Golden Harness Award, Quito grabbed a custom-made golden harness donated by Tanzilla Harness Supply. She also enjoyed some fresh steaks served by the Chef of Coast High Country Inn, in honour of her loyalty, endurance and perseverance throughout the race.
“You can’t do much better than what she’s done,” said Moore. “She’s always ready. Thank you Quito! There’s no quit in Quito.”
The youngest competitor in this race, 22-year-old Matt Hall, also had a huge night at the convention centre. Not only did his third-place finish garner him the Rookie of the Year Award; Hall also walked away with the Challenge of the North Award and the Vet’s Choice Award. Not a bad start.
“I had a great time out there,” said Hall. “I want to be one of those 30 teams next year, and I’m looking forward to many more years.”
Hall spoke about a friend of his, Tim Graves, who passed away before he started the race. “I said I would bring his memories 1,000 miles down the trail with me. And right when I got (to the finish line) I realized it was his memories that got me here.”
For Rookie of the Year, Hall received a second handcrafted Yukon knife from Alaska Rod’s. The Vet’s Choice Award is presented to the musher who best demonstrates outstanding canine care while remaining competitive during the entire race, as selected by the veterinarian team. Hall goes home with a gift certificate for $2,000 US towards veterinarian services – donated by Alpine Veterinary Clinic in Whitehorse and VCA Alaska Pet Care in Fairbanks.
Race Marshal Doug Grilliot took the stage to announce the Challenge of the North winner, which is selected by the Race Officials. Grilliot spoke about how much Hall had impressed everyone in his first Yukon Quest, referring to him as “the future of this race.
The gift to Hall for this award was a stained glass panel of Sitting Dog.
Brian Wilmshurst, who was the final musher to cross the finish line Friday, was selected by his mushing peers for the Sportsmanship Award. Wilmshurst travelled much of the trail with Mandy Nauman, who called him “one of the most positive people I have ever met.”
“I’d probably still be out there if it weren’t for you,” she said, referring to his assistance breaking trail between Eagle and Dawson.
Chief Isaac Incorporated from Dawson City donated handcrafted gauntlets for the winner of this award.
“I’m thinking all of the mushers could win this,” said a modest Wilmshurst. “We all are family out there. Everyone looks after each other.”
The final award of the night went to Jerry Joinson. Although Joinson crossed the finish line ahead of Wilmshurst, his eight-hour penalty was added to his final run time, giving him the Red Lantern.
Sponsored by the White Pass & Yukon Route, the Red Lantern commemorates the tradition of keeping a light on for all mushers still out on the trail.
“I’d like to thank my dogs for getting me across the finish line, despite me,” joked Joinson, adding, “is anybody interested in buying a couple used sleighs?”
Two of the veterans in the Yukon Quest, Neff and John Schandelmeier, paid special homage to the roots of the race and all that it stands for.
“It runs through the most hospitable group of people probably anywhere in the entire world,” said Schandelmeier. “People take good care of you out there.”
“For me it’s a connection to the past, and that’s why I love this race so much,” stated Neff.
Adding to the emotional nature of the evening, Director of the Yukon board, Michael Peterson, paid tribute to outgoing Executive Director for Yukon, Marie Belanger. Belanger, who was surprised by the recognition, received a standing ovation from the crowd.