Kyla Boivin’s back forced her out of the Yukon Quest yesterday in Pelly Crossing.
It started bothering her on the second day of the race, but Boivin wanted to finish.
“I’m not going to let this piece of shit thing called a body put me out of this race,” said Boivin, who arrived in Eagle in severe pain last week.
“This year I have a dog team that would have kept me up there with those big boys — it was my year, I could feel it.”
But Boivin’s back pain forced her to take additional rests along the trail.
Her troubles began between the Angel Creek checkpoint and Central.
“That stretch of trail was hell on wheels,” she said.
“And it didn’t have to be so bad.”
Next year she plans to take her snowmachine and volunteer to help put in this stretch of trail.
“It was a botched job,” she said.
“The Quest should have made a better trail — it’s like, ‘Come on guys, try a little bit.’
“It’s OK to beat the hell out of mushers and sleds, but the dogs shouldn’t have to go through that.”
Resting in the afternoon sun in Pelly yesterday, Boivin’s team looked great.
“It’s one hell of a dog team,” she said. “They’re doing great and they deserve to finish.
“But I just can’t go back over those mountains to Dawson, my back doesn’t allow me to push or pedal.
“Whereas, if we were running to Whitehorse I would continue, because it’s nice and flat.”
Boivin was still on the trail into Dawson along with several other competitors, when officials and mushers voted on whether to finish the Quest in Pelly or return to Dawson.
“We weren’t even contacted about the vote,” said Boivin.
“It was only won by one vote, and I would definitely have voted to finish in Pelly.
“Oh well, there it is, it’s a shitty buzz.”
If she had returned to Dawson, she would have been the last musher traveling the trail, and this worried her too.
“I’m tough to the point where I don’t know how messed up I am till it’s too late,” she said.
“I might suddenly not be able to move — I’m getting close to my limit.
“And there’s no one behind me, so if I got hurt, I would be done for.”
Boivin is not sure just how bad her back damage is because she’s been taking anti-inflammatories and painkillers for the majority of the race.
“My guts are rotten from all the anti-inflammatories and I’m taking as many painkillers as I can choke down,” she said.
With serious knee problems since she was 16, Boivin realizes her back problems are probably related.
“I was dealt a shitty hand when I was born with a body that is not up to doing what I want to do,” she said.
“But as soon as I can walk again I’m going to run my dogs, because they can run good.”
How to pee
from a dog sled
It’s important to stay hydrated on the trail.
And mushers, like their dogs, have learned how to pee on the move.
“I wear these great zip-flap pants,” said musher Kelly Griffin, turning around to show them off.
“I crouch on the runners, hold onto the handlebar with one hand and bunch up my pants with the other, so I don’t pee all over myself.
“You have to make sure there are no other mushers, planes or helicopters around too,” she added.
Several races ago, on a big flat section of river, Griffin thought she was safe.
“I was crouched on the runners, so I couldn’t see anything, and my sled hit a sandbar and stopped dead,” she said.
“I almost got a back eye bumping into the sled bag, and peed all over myself.”
Needless-to-say, it’s a lot easier for the guys.
The Quest is having problems.
Fewer and fewer mushers are signing up.
And fourth-place finisher Dave Dalton has one interesting solution.
“You shouldn’t have a qualifying race,” he said.
“The Quest never had a qualifying race till the late ‘90s and before that there was lots of rookies coming and learning.”
He thinks the qualifying race discourages some rookies and also gives them the wrong impression of what to expect on the Quest.
“They’re thrown the wrong message with these shorter races,” he said.
“Quest mushers need to have learned camping skills, how to care for their dogs and how to pace their teams for a 1,000 miles, while qualifying races are fast, flat out runs.
“There are lots of things that add up that you don’t learn or think about in a 300-mile qualifying race.”
In his first Quest, Dalton was competing with 48 mushers, and 30 of them finished the race.
“It might have taken some of them 20 days, but at least there was no qualifier,” he said.
“And the rookies were learning how to take care of themselves, make fires, feed the dogs, when to unthaw food, when to keep it frozen and how to keep themselves warm.”
This year, only 12 mushers will have finished the Quest, once red lantern musher Regina Wycoff makes it to Dawson.
“I drove a little Japanese Toyota this year,” said fifth-place finisher Gerry Willomitzer.
“It goes like stink, but you never know when it’s going to blow a head gasket.”
He spent the bulk of the race tending to his team, putting balm on paws, handing out pills and massaging sore shoulders.
“With this one, you never put the socket set away,” he said.
“My team struggles in the soft snow — they get shoulder issues.”
Sebastian Schnuelle, on the other hand, loves the soft trails and hates hard-packed ones.
The hard trails give his dogs wrist problems, he said.
But Dalton has a different opinion again.
He runs buggy harnesses that don’t drop over the dogs’ backs, and look more like half harnesses.
“This way they pull more from their chest and belly,” he explained.
“They don’t get all that harness rub on their shoulders and I find they get way less shoulder injuries.”
For a good dog team, there are two things that are key — attitude and appetite, said Quest champ Lance Mackey.
“Without either one, you’re not going anywhere.”
In 10 days of racing, Mackey estimated he spent at least 10 hours just petting his dogs.
“I don’t like my dog team to look like a team of horses,” he said.
“I get lots of pleasure out of knowing they’re having fun doing this.”
And Mackey loves to watch his team eat.
“They don’t lie there while I’m getting the food ready, they stand at attention,” he said.
“And the sound of their noses binging off the bottom of the bowl is music to my ears.”