Home baking and old friends lure mushers to McCabe Creek

McCABE CREEK Mushers eat a lot. Jari Kruse had been baking for the last four days, and the homemade cinnamon buns were almost gone.


Mushers eat a lot.

Jari Kruse had been baking for the last four days, and the homemade cinnamon buns were almost gone.

In the woodworking shed at McCabe Creek farm, Quest mushers Frank Turner and Dawson’s Peter Ledwidge were crashed out behind the chortling stove.

Outside, sled dogs were hunkered down under blankets and coats.

It’s the Kruse family’s 23rd Quest.

“We only missed the first one,” said Jerry, who owns the farm.

Jerry and his wife Kathy have been on McCabe Creek since the late ‘70s, first as lodge owners.

In the low season, the couple packed their 10 kids back to a trapline cabin 50 kilometres out, and spent winters in the bush.

But when Kruse heard the Quest was going to start in ‘84, and realized teams would be running right past the lodge, he asked if he should come back and open it up.

He was told not to bother.

The same thing happened the second year, but Kruse happened to be at the home, in his cabin near the lodge, and answered the phone at 10 a.m.

“The mushers are going to be there in an hour,” was the message.

And they all piled into the house, said Jerry.

“I have lots of daughters and they were all baking bread and cookies.

“It was wall-to-wall with mushers, and as soon as the bread or cookies came out of the oven, it was devoured.”

Then a German TV crew showed up.

“It was too full for them to get in, so I told them to try and squeeze behind the davenport,” said Jerry with a laugh.

All the mushers stopped and rested. Even Jeff King and the frontrunners stayed five hours, he said.

It was the beginning of a longstanding tradition.

Over the following years, the Kruses opened the lodge when the Quest came through.

And when they sold the lodge in ’89, and moved onto McCabe farm less than a kilometre away, they passed the tradition on to the new owners.

But after a year, the lodge went defunct, and the mushers started stopping at the farm instead.

The trail goes right through here, said Jerry sitting in his living room overlooking the river.

Now his eight daughters have grown up and moved away, but many come back for the Quest, to visit with longtime friends and bake the bread and sweets they are famous for.

Over in the woodshop, moose stew simmered on the stove while volunteers, vets, officials and mushers talked dogs and trail and shared stories.

But Jerry, bare feet resting on the carpet, sat quietly in his house away from the bustle.

“I wasn’t out there much today,” he said.

“I let the kids do it all now.”

But the mushers still have to stop by the house for hot water.

“I had a good visit with Frank (Turner) this morning,” said Jerry.

“He came by.”

Over the years, the family has watched the race grow, shrink, grow again and change.

The race used to be more about survival, said Jerry.

And it used to attract trappers, the “real rough and tough.”

“But today the Quest has become much more competitive,” he said.

“They play more mind games now than they used too.”

And this year has been a faster race, he added.

“Usually there are three big groups — the fast ones, the middle and the end — but this year they’ve been coming steady. There’re no big groups.”

Jerry waited until the last minute to clear out his woodshop, and his kids didn’t arrive until quite late.

“But once they arrived, we stopped working,” he said with a smile.

“Mom and I went to bed — we’ve been doing it long enough.”

Jerry, 62, is semi-retired, but still raises broiler chickens, hogs and horses.

When he got the horses, he got out of dogs.

But he and Kathy still have the trapline.

“We keep thinking of going back into that,” he said.

“There’s lots of marten and lynx back there, and I was good at trapping lynx.”

Jerry moved up from Minnesota in ’73, as a journeyman carpenter.

His brother-in-law had fallen in love with the territory on his honeymoon, decided to stay, and convinced Jerry to come for a visit.

“And that’s all it took,” he said.

He and Kathy started off running a lodge in Teslin, near their immediate family, then moved up the highway, got another lodge and started trapping.

“So far we’ve never lived in a place up here that has electricity,” said Jerry.

“It’s all been generators and solar.”

But this spring power is supposed to be coming up the highway.

“We might have to move back to our cabin,” said Jerry with a laugh.

But he’d still come out of the bush for the Quest.