Brent Sass of Wild and Free Kennels in Eureka Alaska and his team of 12 sled dogs have proven themselves masters of this year’s abbreviated Yukon Quest format on both sides of the Yukon/Alaska line.
Although the race’s epic 1,000-mile Whitehorse to Fairbanks course was divided due to COVID-19 concerns for the 2022 running of the quest, the most dedicated mushers were able to put in a hard 300 Miles or more on either side of the border.
Sass had three first-place finishes in the 1,000-mile Quest under his belt when he and his dogs lined up for the start of the 300-mile race leaving Whitehorse on Feb. 19. He was also fresh from a win in a 350-mile that started in Fairbanks on Feb. 5 and ended just over two days later.
A small crowd was on hand to cheer as the mushers in the 300-mile race and the concurrent 100-miler left Shipyards Park on Feb. 19. After clearing Whitehorse city limits the nine teams on the 300-mile course and the eight doing the 100 raced down the frozen Yukon River then up the Takhini to join the old Dawson Overland Trail bound for Braeburn.
Braeburn served as the finish line for the 100-mile race. Nathaniel Hamlyn finished first after 14 hours and 40 minutes. Martine Le Levier was only three minutes behind for a close second place.
The 300-mile quest route wound on up to its turnaround point at Mandana Lake. Michelle Phillips of Tagish Lake Kennels was the first in to the halfway checkpoint followed by Jerry Joinson, Mayla Hill and Sass in fourth.
The teams rested up at Mandana before beginning the dash back south at around 11 p.m. on Feb. 20. Sass overtook Phillips on the trail back to Braeburn to be first in to the checkpoint there. The rest of the field trickled in over the next three-and-a-half hours.
The sun rose on the last day of the race and Sass left Braeburn shortly before noon. Phillips was fairly close behind until stopping to rest her dogs at a time check station. Sass and his team rested a little further up the trail to prepare for the last dash down to Whitehorse.
The final stretch had to be run amid gusty winds and blowing snow, but cold conditions allowed the teams to make a brisk pace that contrasted the race’s early stages.
“I’m really proud of this team. The biggest thing is that we finished with all twelve dogs — that to me is the biggest thing. That’s what this is all about,” Sass said at the finish line.
Phillips and Hill left neck-and-neck at around 8:30 p.m. but Sass got moving as well keeping his lead right to the finish line for a final time of two days, 10 hours and 44 minutes.
His team trotted across the line at around 2 a.m. Feb. 22 led by fresh-looking lead dogs Woody and Slater—white furred brothers from the same litter.
Phillips crossed about half an hour after Sass, stretching an eight-minute lead over third-place Hill on the final stretch of the Yukon River headed into town.
All nine mushers who started out crossed the finish line within seven hours of each other in what organizers are calling an unusually tight race.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org