Dagoo a go after a rough ride to the starting line

On the eve of the Dagoo 340’s race day, organizer Daryl Sheepway was feeling the pressure of co-ordinating the large event.

On the eve of the Dagoo 340’s race day, organizer Daryl Sheepway was feeling the pressure of co-ordinating the large event.

“I’m stressed — it’s Murphy’s Law right now,” said the community’s steward from his Old Crow office on Wednesday.

Two Snow Cats out breaking the trail were late coming in; one of the mushers was having trouble getting from Old Crow to the start point in Eagle Plains and there was a blizzard on the way.

Undeterred, Sheepway was proceeding with the race.

This being the Dagoo’s first run, it was destined to be full of last-minute changes.

“Some people backed out at the last minute because everything was up in the air,” he said.

On Wednesday, there were six teams confirmed to race.

By Thursday morning there were three — Carcross musher William Kleedehn, Kyla Boivin from Dawson City and Solomon Carriere, who came from Saskatchewan.

Two more — Vicky Josie and David Lord — planned to join them for the second half of the race from Old Crow.

Despite the setbacks, the event had been running on the sweat of volunteers and the kindness of strangers.

Skyways Technical Services sent two Snow Cats out to break the trail, and after meeting a blizzard and a handful of other setbacks, the pair finally returned at 2 a.m. Thursday morning.

Organizers originally planned to go back out on the Snow Cats and drop dog food and supplies at the race’s midway checkpoint, but because of the late hour that was impossible, Eagle Plains Lodge owner Stan McNevin said on Thursday morning.

So Capital Helicopters offered to fly the supplies out instead.

And, because of the company’s kindness, the race was back on track, said McNevin.

“We just got back from looking at the trail and everybody’s happy,” he said on Thursday morning.

With just five mushers in the race, the event didn’t bring the large number of people to the area as McNevin had hoped, but it is just the first year, he added.

“Build it and it will grow,” he said.

It’s a little smaller and a little longer than originally planned, but the race was still going ahead with a starting point just one kilometre away from the Eagle Plains Lodge.

The start time was pushed forward from 6 p.m. to 2 p.m. to give mushers more daylight hours to navigate the longer trail.

Organizers also managed to find one vet, John Overell, to help out during the race.

“We’re going to be shorthanded vet-wise,” said Sheepway.

“John is a very capable person and a lot of these mushers coming up are going to be well versed in the language of dog care and they’ll be able to look after themselves.”

The idea for the Dagoo has been batted around for years, but Sheepway and musher Stan Njootli began putting the plan into action last October.

The race began as the Vuntut 300, after the name of the aboriginal people who call Old Crow home, the Vuntut Gwitchin. It means “people of the lakes” in the Gwich’in language.

But it was changed to reflect a forgotten piece of the area’s history.

“The trail is crossing the country that was formerly Dagoo country,” said Sheepway.

The Dagoo people inhabited the area between Eagle Plains and Old Crow.

Once other settlements were built, such as Old Crow and Fort McPherson, the people moved into the bigger communities and were amalgamated into other First Nations, he said.

Like the name, the race’s distance also changed.

Originally the race was going to follow the path of the winter road into the community.

The Snow Cats had trouble following the trail when they encountered a creek they couldn’t cross.

“It would have taken a major construction effort to fill the creek in and they just didn’t have the equipment,” said Sheepway.

So the trail was rerouted down the Porcupine River all the way into Old Crow.

It added about 80 kilometres to the race each way making the total distance nearly 708 kilometres.

On the first half of the race mushers were encouraged to pack up and help each other along.

Provided everything runs smoothly, Sheepway expected mushers to begin coming in to Old Crow on Saturday.

“While teams are arriving, we plan to have a welcome-to-Old-Crow hot chocolate and marshmallow roast,” said Sheepway.

Then, on Sunday afternoon, there’s a banquet planned in the community.

Organizers are also planning a tribute to Old Crow elder Isaac Thomas who passed away this week.

Teams will hit the trail again on Sunday for the race’s second half, which will be a mad dash for the finish line.

Race organizers were looking to raise $20,000, but only managed to wrangle $16,000 in donations.

Its major sponsor, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation put $10,000 toward the cause.

“We didn’t meet our original goals but we came pretty close,” said Sheepway.

Currently, there’s $10,000 set aside for the purse with the first-place finisher walking away with $2,500, but nothing is carved in stone, said Sheepway.

So far, race preparations have come in more expensive than organizers’ planned.

“We’re hoping we don’t have to adjust the purse because of any increased costs, but it might come down to that,” he said.

Look for race updates online at thedagoo340.blogspot.com.

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