Banquet leaves one musher out in the cold

FAIRBANKS Kyla Boivin crashed the Yukon Quest banquet. The Fish Lake musher’s team arrived in Fairbanks 15 minutes after the celebrations…

FAIRBANKS

Kyla Boivin crashed the Yukon Quest banquet.

The Fish Lake musher’s team arrived in Fairbanks 15 minutes after the celebrations started.

And she made it to the Westmark in time for dinner and beer.

But she fell asleep during the speeches.

“After two beers, I just couldn’t help it,” she said, sitting at one of the tables in well-worn mushing gear.

Boivin started the race sick and feverish, and it slowed her down.

“I got lazy, and overslept,” she said.

“So next year I want to bring my nice dog team back and actually race.”

However, a number of Boivin’s competitors may not be there.

Second-place finisher Hans Gatt told the banquet hall his mushing career is probably over.

“This year’s race just about beat the crap out of me,” he said.

“I’m getting old and I froze my butt off.”

Gatt has made similar forecasts in the past, and always returned.

But this year, he has a new deterrent — partner Susie Rogan.

“If I did it again, I’d get hit over the head with a frying pan, if you get my drift,” he said with a chuckle.

Sebastian Schnuelle, who walked away with the Sportsmanship Award and the Vet’s Choice Award, may also not return.

“I realized I will never be really competitive,” he said.

“When it comes down to push and shove, I’m not willing to push the dogs.

“I’m too soft.”

The vets took notice of Schnuelle out working on his team.

“Even in the bitter cold he was out massaging them, working on their feet and keeping their weight up,” said head vet Vern Starks.

The Vet’s Choice is one of the most coveted awards, and three-time champ Lance Mackey wanted it this year.

  “I want it more than a third victory,” he said at the start banquet.

Mackey thinks the mushers should have a say in who gets the vet’s award.

“We’re the ones who have a little more idea what goes on out on the trail,” he said.

“Anyone can come into a checkpoint and put on a show.”

Mackey has never been chosen for the Vet’s Choice and he doesn’t understand why.

“If I wasn’t taking good care of my team, they wouldn’t be winning,” he said.

On the stage Saturday night, Mackey’s two lead dogs were sniffing around the podium as they were handed the annual Golden Harness Award and the traditional steak dinner.

After last year, Hobo Jim knew what was coming, but this was his sister Lippy’s first steak.

The four-year-old became an adult dog this race, said Mackey.

He’d tried Lippy in lead before, and she didn’t go.

But midway through the race, looking for speed in his front end, he tried her again.

“She figured out how to go from stake to stake and took control,” said Mackey.

“She actually became my main leader, but Hobo doesn’t know that yet.”

Frank Turner, who didn’t make the banquet, sent Mackey a note congratulating him on setting a new record.

Mackey beat Turner’s ‘95 record for fastest finish by almost 14 hours.

“There’s never been the level of enthusiasm and dog care that you bring,” he wrote.

While the mushers drank and dined, the Red Lantern winner and his team were still trotting down the trail.

Bob McAlpin took his time out there, and kept all 14 dogs until he reached Circle.

The Alaskan musher crossed the finish line Sunday morning with 13 dogs.

Beattie loses

trust in his team

To get to the finish line Richie Beattie’s team had to run right by their home trail.

And after 1,550 kilometres, they didn’t.

“It was more than my young dogs could handle,” said Beattie, at the banquet.

“It was a big bummer.”

All year, the North Pole musher practised running past the trail in preparation for the race.

And when he got there on Thursday, he stopped a couple of kilometres before the turn-off and pulled his team past.

At first, this seemed to work.

The dogs slowed down but kept on running, and when they saw the North Pole dog drop, just 45 kilometres from Fairbanks, they perked up.

But it turns out the dogs thought it was a checkpoint, and expected a break.

When Beattie tried to run straight through North Pole, his leaders sat down and the rest of the team followed suit.

“I spent three to four hours trying to find different combinations of leaders,” he said.

“I was soaked in sweat and frustrated to the point of tears.”

When musher Brent Sass came through North Pole five hours later, Beattie was still there.

The pair had travelled together for much of the race and Sass spent a few hours trying to help Beattie.

He even towed Beattie’s team for a few kilometres, but the dogs just wouldn’t go.

“There were moments I just wanted to turn around and go home,” said Beattie.

Instead, he returned to North Pole and decided to treat it like a checkpoint, using the extra food Sass gave him for the dogs.

“It was so hard to be only 30 miles from the finish on this flat river after all those mountains and cold,” he said.

“And I knew there was nothing wrong with the dogs — it was just a head game for them.”

Beattie spent the night in North Pole, and dropped three places, out of the money spots, he said.

The next morning he walked in front of his team for several kilometres, and then they got going.

“By then I was prepared to walk them the whole 30 miles into town,” he said.

If the team hadn’t quit, Beattie would have made $5,000, instead of the $1,000 he got for placing 16th.

But money wasn’t what was eating Beattie.

“It’s more of a bummer to have my trust in my team broken,” he said.

“I feel let down.”

Beattie’s team also struggled on Eagle Summit.

“I had to disconnect them from the sled and haul them up there, then empty the sled and haul it up. Then I made three more trips with my gear,” he said.

Beattie’s going to take a break from the dogs, and sort out his emotions.

When a musher’s out there 400 kilometres from anywhere in frigid temperatures, they need to trust their team, he said.

“And I still love my dogs,” said Beattie.

“But the trust is gone.”

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