Jean-Denis Britten had just pulled into Carmacks at 8:25 on Sunday night in 15th place. He wasn’t stopping long.
The furry lead dog suddenly lurched at its tugline, and then waited again, its black booties tapping on the frozen road.
Standing there in their shiny grey coats, after munching on a frozen meat snack, his team was a sea of wagging tails.
Officials, with headlights glowing, milled about, shooing spectators away as Britten went through the necessary paperwork – showing the checker his fresh dog booties, vet book and gear.
Then, after his wife Marie-Claude Dufresme ran up the trail toward the river to show the dogs the way, Britten gave a quick call and the team took off, snow flying in a rooster tail from his steel brake.
“They looked good,” said Dufresme.
The night before in Braeburn, she’d been worried.
Britten was the first team into the lodge, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
He did the 160-kilometre run from Whitehorse in just over nine hours.
“Jean-Denis said he wanted to stop on the trail, but last year his dogs didn’t rest because of all the teams passing,” said Dufresme.
This year, Britten stopped after running 120 kilometres, looked at his dogs, and decided to keep going.
“It seems like a very fast time,” she said.
“I remember a musher who did this last year and his dogs crashed.
“Hopefully they don’t do this.”
Britten knows his dogs, she added.
Used to training in the mountains around Dawson, the hard fast trail may have seemed easy to them, said Dufresme.
“There’s a lot of people that don’t know what they’re doing that should have rested,” said William Kleedehn, getting hot water to feed his team at Braeburn.
“It’s a very fast trail and it looks easy, but it’s hard on the dogs,” he said.
Britten dropped a dog in Carmacks, but Dufresme wasn’t surprised.
It was a yearling, she said. It was stressed out.
Rookie Luc Tweddell, who pulled into Braeburn in third, ended up dropping a dog as well.
It was breathing funny, he said.
The team was too fast on those first 160 kilometres, said the Yukon musher.
Tweddell doesn’t own a snowmachine, so his trails at home are not as hardpacked.
Although he rode his rubber brake the whole way, he still couldn’t slow the team down.
“I’m worried about the younger dogs,” he said.
“But if we’d stopped after 50 miles, I know they wouldn’t have slept because they’re not used to camping with all these other teams.”
Tweddell had a schedule he planned on following until at least Pelly Crossing.
“You have to stay focused on your team and schedule,” he said.
There are lots of mushers “who like to play with your head,” he added.
Tweddell was surprised how rude some of the veteran racers were out on the trail.
“If you care about that stuff it could really hurt your feelings and your confidence,” he said.
By the time Tweddell got to Carmacks on Sunday night, he’d changed his schedule.
“I’ve decided not to try and keep up with the frontrunners,” he said.
“They train differently and go very fast.
“I decided if we’re going to be out there for 10 more days, we’re going to have fun.”
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