Winner of the 2019 Yukon Quest 300, Aliy Zirkle, as she and her team takes off from the start line on Feb. 2. (Whitney McLaren/Yukon Quest)

Alaskan musher Aliy Zirkle wins the Yukon Quest 300

“Was it ideal conditions? No, but then when is life ideal?”

Veteran Alaskan musher Aliy Zirkle took first place in the Yukon Quest 300 Feb. 5, crossing the finish line with a time of 26 hour and 16 minutes.

The race is usually 300 miles (480 kilometres) and goes from Whitehorse to Pelly Crossing using a route which runs through Braeburn and Carmacks. Poor snow conditions in that area, however, prompted the Quest to shorten the race to 200 miles (320 km) which ran from Whitehorse to Braeburn and back again.

Despite this abbreviated route, this was still no easy haul, Zirkle said. Temperatures were a bitter -40 to -45 C for much of the race. That cold makes everything infinitely more challenging, she said — the wax for her dog’s feet froze, the liquid in her thermos was a useless solid lump and the zipper on her parka was sealed shut with frost.

“It was awesome that we could put on a race at all at these temperatures,” she said.

The lack of snow was also a challenge, she noted, as “the more snow you have, the more control you have.

“Was it ideal conditions? No, but then when is life ideal?”

Zirkle finished the race around 5 p.m. Rushing into Whitehorse towards the red and blue lights of the park was very exciting for her and her dogs.

After the race, Zirkle said she retired to the High Country Inn, a pet-friendly hotel, where “about half” of her dogs slept with her in the hotel room, while the other slept in the truck cab or in their straw-lined kennel beds.

Zirkle won the 1000-mile Yukon Quest in 2000. While it’s hard to compare with that kind of excitement, she said this race offered other pleasures.

“Being out on Lake Laberge at dawn, being on the Yukon River by evening — I think that’s one of the highlights of my season,” she said.

While she was out on the lake she tried to take some video but it was too cold for the camera, although she doesn’t worry about not getting the shot since “it’s forever engraved” in her head.

Zirkle’s partner, fellow musher Allen Moore, is still racing in the full Quest, which is presently underway.

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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