Top Quest mushers have other plans next year

Hugh Neff is giving away his $22,000 in winnings. "I don't really respect money," said the Quest's second-place finisher. "I came here to be a dog man," said Neff at the Quest banquet in Fairbanks on Saturday

Fairbanks

Hugh Neff is giving away his $22,000 in winnings.

“I don’t really respect money,” said the Quest’s second-place finisher.

“I came here to be a dog man,” said Neff at the Quest banquet in Fairbanks on Saturday night.

Half of his second-place earnings -$11,000 – will go to his partner Tamra Reynolds, so he’s not “locked out of the house,” he said.

“The rest of the money – I don’t want it.”

Neff is giving $5,000 to the folks who run the McCabe Creek dog drop, to help rebuild after a fire tore through their place just after the Quest passed through.

Another $5,000 is going into a purse for a new 300-mile race in Fort Yukon, Alaska, where scratched musher Josh Cadzow lives.

To get to races, the Cadzows need to fly their dogs out of the remote community, and Neff wants to give them a mushing opportunity that’s closer to home.

“When I moved here, I wanted to be a great Alaskan,” he said.

“And part of that is loving the people who were here first before the white man.”

Neff, who served a two-hour time penalty at the last checkpoint for running about eight kilometres on the road instead of the trail, finished just four minutes after Quest champ Sebastian Schnuelle.

“A lot of people feel sorry for me,” said Neff.

“But I haven’t felt sorry since the moment I crossed that finish line.

“Don’t feel sorry for me, because this train has just gotten rolling and we’re moving in great directions.”

But Neff doesn’t plan on moving in the direction of the Quest again.

At Twin Bears, the last checkpoint, Neff swore off the race.

“This is my last Quest,” he said. “I just can’t deal with these people (the officials) anymore.”

Both Neff and Schnuelle will race the Iditarod, which starts on Saturday.

“I won’t be back,” said Schnuelle, after receiving his $30,000 cheque at the banquet.

It’s nothing against the Quest, he said.

It’s just that his six-year racing plan is coming to an end.

Schnuelle almost didn’t run the Quest this year.

In January, the Whitehorse musher withdrew, only to sign up a few days later.

And he’s happy he did.

The race was “outright pleasant,” he said.

The only bad part was the fish oil.

At one point, during the race, a parched and sleepy Schnuelle opened what appeared to be a Gatorade bottle and took a big swig.

He’d forgotten he stored his fish oil in those bottles.

“It’s good for the hair,” he said with a laugh.

Like Schnuelle, sixth-place finisher William Kleedehn doesn’t plan on running the Yukon Quest again.

“It’s definitely my last Quest,” he said, accepting his $10,000 prize on Saturday.

Kleedehn, who led the pack for most of the race, stalled on Eagle Summit after his main leader went into heat at the base of the mountain.

“I have so much support in this race,” he said. “Maybe too much support – but I don’t ever manage to pull it off.

“So, I’m going to try another deck of cards.”

Kleedehn thanked everyone who’d supported him over the years.

“You’re welcome to support me in the future, too,” he said.

“It just won’t be here.”

Iris Wood-Sutton took home the red lantern.

The Alaskan rookie thanked her travelling partner Becca Moore, who finished just half an hour in front of her, and her lead-dog Twiggy.

She ran up front all by herself for more than half the race, and led over Rosebud Summit through huge drifts and blinding snow, said Wood-Sutton.

Twiggy came from the Fairbanks animal shelter; Wood-Sutton adopted her four years ago.

“I believe it’s the relationship you have with your dogs that’s important, rather than the bloodlines or where they came from,” she said.

The dogs did so well, said Wood-Sutton before the banquet.

But running 1,126 kilometres before tackling the two summits at the end of the race was hard on them, she said.

“They were so tired, and seeing them so tired and asking them to climb up those mountains É.”

The hardest part of the race was watching the dogs, added 12th-place finisher Colleen Robertia, who also runs rescue dogs.

“It was tough seeing my dogs go through something so challenging,” she said.

“And I was constantly second-guessing whether I was doing right by them.”

The dogs love to run, said Robertia.

“But it got to the point where they were definitely getting tired.”

The vets were so complimentary, she said.

“They kept saying, ‘Oh your team looks great.’

“But, in my eyes, it was a very different team than I am used to seeing at my house.”

The Vet’s Choice Award went to Tagish musher Michelle Phillips, who came in fifth, just seconds behind Martin Buser.

Buser earned Rookie of the Year for being the first rookie to finish.

“My boys, who are in college, got so much fun out of their dad being a rookie again,” said the four-time Iditarod champ.

Jamaican musher Newton Marshal was chosen for the Spirit if the North Award.

“I’ll be the first to admit that when I saw his entry I thought it was nothing more than a publicity stunt,” said race marshal Doug Grilliot.

“But this award is going to a musher who showed true perseverance, class and grace,” he said.

“And his cheerful smile never faltered.”

Brent Sass, who stalled out less than 64 kilometres from the end, falling from fifth to seventh place, earned the Sportsmanship Award.

Sass ran into Kleedehn on Eagle Summit and after getting his team to the top, came back to help the Carcross musher get over the mountain.

“I don’t think anyone would have passed him up there,” said Sass.

“It was heart-wrenching.

“When I saw him stuck up there, I knew I’d get him over.

“That’s the best part of the Quest, it’s a race, but we all help each other.”

It wasn’t only mushers recognized at the closing banquet. A couple of Schnuelle’s leaders, Inuk and Nemo, also took a turn on the stage.

Raw steaks were given to the two golden harness recipients, but they weren’t very good at sharing.

Nemo gulped his down and then finished off Inuk’s, who had stage fright.

Japanese musher Yuka Honda, also had stage fright.

“But now I have beer, so it’s OK,” she said with a laugh.

Honda, who made it all the way to Mile 101 before she scratched, had trouble with her lead dog.

“She was sore,” she said.

It took Honda more than 20 hours to go 48 kilometres from Central to 101.

“I scratched three times and never finished,” she said.

“But maybe if I get money I will someday come back.”

Kyla Boivin also scratched after an encounter with Eagle summit.

There were high winds on the summit, said the Whitehorse musher.

“And I’d just dropped my main leader.”

The dogs had already run more than 1,100 kilometres, added Boivin.

“So there’s no point running them into the ground just to get a finisher’s patch and a pat on the back, when I can come back next year and run a happy team.”

Three-time champ Hans Gatt also decided to give his team a rest after running to Dawson.

He scratched because “all the way from Whitehorse there was nothing in my head but going to the Iditarod,” he said at the banquet.

The Quest is starting a week earlier next year, to give mushers a bit more time to rest before the start of the Iditarod.

But if they stick to their guns, Neff, Kleedehn and Schnuelle won’t be back.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com