On the way back to Argentina, Simi Morrison’s motorcycle broke down in Whitehorse.
The part, shipped from Belgium, took months to arrive.
Walking around the dusty town in endless daylight, Morrison ran across an article about Frank Turner’s Muktuk Kennels in a tourism brochure.
Now, four years later, she’s running the Yukon Quest 300.
And motorcycles and South America are distant memories.
“I knew there was dog sledding in this world,” said Morrison, who grew up in East Germany.
“It just didn’t occur to me to check it out.”
But, that fateful summer, at a loss in Whitehorse, Morrison headed out to Muktuk to join one of Turner’s summer tours.
After walking some of the sled dogs, she watched a dog sledding video and listened to some of Turner’s stories.
“I was bored,” said Morrison.
“So I started walking the dogs to help fill my days.”
When her birthday came along, Morrison, and her then boyfriend and travelling partner rented a cabin at Turner’s.
Morrison made friends at the dog yard and started to feed and clean with the Muktuk crew.
When the motorcycle part finally arrived, and the boyfriend and bike were ready to head south, Morrison didn’t leave.
Too fond of the dogs, she stayed on at Muktuk as a volunteer.
The year before, Turner rescued 17 dogs that were left to starve near Fish Lake.
Morrison grew attached to some of these huskies and started running her own team.
And a couple of years ago, when she left Muktuk to start her own kennel, Pinocchio’s Springs, Morrison took six of these rescued dogs with her.
She also took Muktuk guide Colin Morrison, and married him.
“We fell in love and decided to have our own kennel,” she said.
“Now I have 16 dogs, and have four more for the season.”
Morrison, who can’t work until her green card arrives, has taken the opportunity to run the Quest 300.
But Colin is paying the price.
“He works seven days a week so we can do this,” she said.
“He’s my biggest and best sponsor.”
And racing is expensive.
Especially when mushers are just starting out.
“We’re not fully set up yet,” said Morrison.
“So we had to buy a sled, booties, the cooker, snowhooks, meat — it all adds up.”
It’s a big commitment for Morrison, who has travelled most of her life.
“It’s the first time I’ve settled in 10 years,” she said.
But running dogs just made sense.
“When I was travelling, I always took care of the street dogs,” said Morrison.
“And here I have these great dogs and I can do a sport with them.”
Coming from Europe, where it’s crowded, Morrison loves the quiet, running into the mountains and camping with her team.
“I don’t mind being out there by myself, and I don’t miss the comforts,” she said.
But moose, known to trample dog teams, are another story.
“I’ve never seen so many moose,” she said.
“I’m worried, but what can you do?”
Fresh tracks on the trail get the dogs excited and Morrison scared.
“In the dark you can’t do anything,” she said.
And when it’s not moose, it’s caribou.
Morrison turned a corner one day and saw a herd of caribou spread across the trail.
The dogs took off, despite Morrison’s commands, so she threw herself and the sled into the deep snow.
The caribou took off.
“Probably because I was yelling so much,” said Morrison.
Eventually, after dragging Morrison and the sled for a bit, the team stopped.
“You never know what’s around the next corner,” she said.
“But being out there by yourself, you have to deal with everything — the trail, the dogs — it’s exciting.”
And this is what has drawn Morrison to racing.
“I love the excitement of the start, and getting to the finish and saying, ‘Yeah, we made it doggies,’” she said.
But Morrison isn’t competitive.
“I have to have time to stop and enjoy it,” she said.
“I stopped on the Silver Sled and took pictures, and I am considering taking my camera on the Quest 300.”
If the dogs aren’t enjoying themselves, then there’s no point racing, she added.
“Maybe I’m too mommy-like with my dogs,” said Morrison.
“But it’s hard not to be when they look up at you, wag their tails and lick you while you change their booties.”
Morrison and 16 other mushers will start the Quest 300 at 5 p.m. Saturday in front of the Whitepass building.
The Yukon Quest starts earlier, 11 a.m. Saturday.