‘Girls just relate better with other girls, it doesn’t matter about the species; we understand each other better … even if it’s just gee and haw,” said Kyla Boivin.
She was explaining how she chose her lead dog, Iris.
It was at least -30 and the light faded to orange and purple over the dog yard near Fish Lake as Boivin answered questions and harnessed her teams for a run around the lake.
With handler Matthew McHugh driving the b-team, she could focus her energy on the 14 dogs she will take to Fairbanks for the start of the Yukon Quest.
It had been a hectic day for 23-year-old Boivin, who described herself as “the oldest young musher in the Quest.”
She’d been running around Whitehorse, getting the brakes on her truck fixed, buying some new wrist warmers and preparing her food drops for the 10 checkpoints of the race.
This will be her fourth attempt at the 1,000-mile challenge, and she’s faced some serious adversity getting this far.
She scratched during her third Yukon Quest in 2004 because of a leg injury. “I made it as far as Dawson, I guess that counts for something,” she said.
The next year ended up being a complete wash; after surgery on a ligament in November she couldn’t run her dogs for more than a few kilometres at a time.
She ended up handling for Catherine Pinard during the 2005 Quest, which was a learning experience.
“I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I’ll ever do it again,” she said. “All I wanted to do was jump on the dog team and head down the trail.
“It’s way harder to stay awake driving a truck than it is driving a dog team, I’ll tell ya.”
More setbacks followed.
Her leg is still bothering her, and she plans on having surgery again in the spring.
In December, Boivin’s team was hit by a car while training near Dawson. Three of her dogs were killed, but she was determined to make it to the Quest.
Friends in the tight-knit mushing community stepped in, and she managed to fill out her team with dogs from Catherine Pinard and William Kleedehn.
Carcross-based Kleedehn has played a large role in Boivin’s mushing career.
Before her first Quest in 2001, she rented a cabin from him.
She described her time there: “I just took notes, watched him train, and asked him questions … I learned a whackload from him.”
They both ran the Quest that year. “It wasn’t a buddy system,” she said. “He was in the top five and I was at the back of the pack.”
Both mushers are in the race again this year and Boivin is rooting for Kleedehn.
“I owe William a lot,” she said. “He’s a really good guy, and I hope he wins.”
She doesn’t consider herself a favorite, but she’s taking the longview. “I think I may do well this year … if I don’t, I’ll sell the team and buy some dogs that will do well.”
Boivin is living proof that Mushing can take over your life. All her resources go into the dogs, and finances can make or break a season.
“I was trying to get in the Copper Basin 300, but the money didn’t come through.”
She spends her summers working as a log homebuilder, and “during the winter, I’m on Employment Insurance or living off the credit card, and training dogs.”
It’s not a life for everyone, but she loves it. “I need to be out on the trail … I had a shitty year last year because I couldn’t run dogs.”
It comes naturally for Boivin, who grew up on the Stewart River near Mayo, where her parents ran a trap line using a dog team. “I’m always going to have dogs,” she said.
“I might not always run the Quest, maybe I’ll start a trap line and raise a family, I don’t know. When I’m out on the trail, that’s where I belong … everywhere else is just a passing point.”
With two weeks to go until the race start in Fairbanks, Quest mushers still have a lot to do.
Vet checks, food drops, and final team selections. Asked if she has a strategy for her fourth Quest, she only said, “I don’t, I just can’t wait to get on the trail. I’m feeling good, I like the way the team looks.”
Boivin is banking on a change of luck when she crosses the starting line in Fairbanks.
“Something’s got to go good,” she said. “I’m hoping it will be the race.”