Michelle Phillips crossed the finish-line after 450 miles on the Yukon Quest trail, stepped off the runners of her sled, walked to her lead pair of dogs and knelt down to ask them if they wished they were going further as she scratched behind their ears.
Phillips was the winner of the 2023 Yukon Quest’s 450-mile race that began in Whitehorse on Feb. 11 and ended, for her at least, a few minutes after 1 a.m. on Front Street in Dawson City. Hundreds had turned up for the start of the Quest and despite the lateness of the hour, about 20 people were at the finish line to greet her.
After seeing her dogs fed and loaded into her truck, Phillips said the team was still doing really well and behaving upbeat at race’s end and said she wished it wasn’t over.
This Dawson City finish line has previously served as a halfway rest stop for the traditional 1000-mile trail between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, Alaska. Over 25 years of running dogs, Phillips is a veteran of eight past 1000-mile Quests and 21 1000-mile races in total.
“It feels really weird. Yeah. It’s kind of like bittersweet. You know, the Quest trail it, it was like, just going through a lot of memories for me,” Phillips said of the race ending in Dawson rather than pressing on over the Alaska border.
She said a wave of emotions over mushers who are no longer around was mixed with sadness that this year’s Quest could not be its full 1000-mile race. An early 2022 breakdown in cooperation between Yukon and Alaskan race organizers originating in an argument over mandatory rest periods split the trail at the international border for the time being. Shorter races were also run earlier this year on the Alaskan side.
At the Dawson City finish line, Phillips expressed hope that the race’s full distance would return, citing the beautiful country and deep history that accent the event.
Phillips finished well ahead of the other Yukon Quest 450 mushers. Even after finishing off a tough hill climb towards the end of the race, she said the final leg into Dawson felt fast for her team. Cleo and Lambo were Phillips’ lead dogs at the finish line, but she said there had been a change of leaders on the trail with a young lead dog who grew confused as the trail twisted and turned.
At press time, Phillips remained the only YQ 450 finisher, but Mille Porsild had put some distance between herself and the rest of the field. After a rest near the Indian River time station she was within 30 miles of Dawson and poised for a second-place finish. Behind her and north of Scroggie Creek were Aaron Peck, Mayla Hill, Conor McMahon and Louve Tweddell.
The 2023 Quest’s shorter race distances, a 100-mile event terminating in Braeburn and a 250 bound for Pelly Crossing were both a wrap well before the end of the 450 with all mushers who set out from Whitehorse finishing. Aiyanna O’Shaughnessy racing in the 250 had traded the lead with Michael Burtnick and Craig Houghton on the trail to Braeburn. O’Shaughnessy would pull out a lead and reach Pelly first, followed by Burtnick then Houghton. Jess Sears and Ilana Kingsley also reached Pelly in the early-morning hours of Feb. 14.
Luc Tweddell was the first to finish the 100-mile race in Braeburn, crossing the line at around 1 a.m. on Feb. 12, approximately 14 hours after the start of the race. Jonathan Lucas was hot on Tweddell’s heels finishing second, roughly 15 minutes off the leader. Nate Metzen pulled in third followed by Debbie Knight and Janna-Lee Cushing.
Contact Jim Elliot at email@example.com