Flying solo gets Quest rookie kicked out of race

DAWSON CITY Rookie musher J.T. Hessert has been kicked out of the race in Dawson. The 23-year-old Alaskan doesn’t have a dog handler.

DAWSON CITY

Rookie musher J.T. Hessert has been kicked out of the race in Dawson.

The 23-year-old Alaskan doesn’t have a dog handler.

Or a house.

Home is wherever he parks the dog truck.

And it’s a mess.

“My sled is cleaner,” said Hessert in Pelly. 

Piled to the roof with garbage and old coffee cups, Hessert’s truck is still in Whitehorse.

“Lots of people said they’d handle for me,” he said. “But then they had other commitments.”

Without a handler, Hessert barely made it to the start line in Whitehorse.

Late to the gate, he had to wait until all the mushers had gone.

And he left two dogs in his truck.

“I’d never heard of him,” said rookie Mike Jayne’s girlfriend and handler Michelle Reakoff.

But after Hessert left the start chute, race officials approached Reakoff.

It turned out Hessert had listed her as the person who would pick up his dropped dogs.

“I guess he’d mentioned it to Mike,” she said. “But Mike was so busy getting ready for the race, he forgot to tell me.”

But Reakoff didn’t mind.

Compared to the 50 dogs she cares for at home, this is a holiday, she said.

But Reakoff is worried about Hessert’s team.

“He said some were neck-lining,” she said. Neck-lining is when a dog pulls back on the neckline and doesn’t want to run.

“I told him to drop them, but he didn’t,” said Reakoff.

“He said they can walk if they get really tired.”

“I feel sorry for the dogs,” she added. 

Hessert received a penalty for not cleaning up at checkpoints after his team left — something a handler does — so Reakoff took this on as well. She also shoveled out his camp in Dawson, but had nothing to set up.

“I asked him in Pelly if he had anything,” she said.

“And he said he didn’t.”

Usually, during the 36-hour layover, the dogs are bedded down on drop-chains under a tarp tent. But Hessert has none of this.

“I guess he’ll leave them on the gang line (they run on),” she said.

Reakoff shoveled out Hessert’s camp and spread out straw to help the dogs.

“Those poor dogs don’t know what they’re getting into,” she said.

“They don’t know if they’re going 10 miles or 1,000 miles. And they don’t know they have a 36-hour layover without a tent.”

Hessert appreciates Reakoff’s help and plans to give her some gas money.

“He thanks me whenever he sees me,” she said. “But the next time he does a race, he should plan things out a little bit.”

Reakoff was worried about getting Hessert’s dropped dogs across the border.

It turned out he’d left all his rabies certificates in his truck, with his wallet.

The truck was supposed to be in Dawson, but Hessert couldn’t find anyone willing to drive it up.

“I figured I’d just find someone in Whitehorse to drive it up,” he said at the Pelly checkpoint. But this didn’t work out.

And Reakoff heard a rumour that one of the guides at Muktuk Kennels, where the truck is parked, cleaned it out and threw everything out, including the rabies certificates and Hessert’s wallet.

“The truck will be here tonight at 8 p.m.,” Hessert said to race marshal Mike McCowan, on Thursday morning.

At the Dawson checkpoint, he was still trying to convince McCowan to let him finish the race.

Citing race rule 31b, McCowan told Hessert he was withdrawn  —  “you’re done, alright?”

“It isn’t anything negative toward him, and has nothing to do with his dog care,” said McCowan.

“We were just concerned about his preparation and how that would affect his stay here and further down the trail.”

He has no truck and no handler, said McCowan. “He was relying upon the good graces of a handler from another team, and had no one to drive his truck from here to Alaska for supplies or dropped dogs.”

McCowan waited until Dawson to make his decision, which leaves Hessert a Quest veteran, rather than a rookie.

“He’s here now, and he has 36 hours to make arrangements,” said McCowan.

Hessert didn’t react well, but McCowan didn’t expect him to.

There’s no rule that states a musher needs a handler, but it’s pretty much expected, said McCowan, who, in four years as marshal, has never seen a musher run without one.

“I didn’t have a handler lined up,” said Hessert.

“But it’s not even in the rules.

“And I didn’t see it as that big of a deal.”

Hessert has finished the Iditarod without a handler, but that race’s checkpoints are mostly fly-in only and handlers are not very common.

“I’m not the most organized person in general,” said Hessert, who was late for the Quest food drop, the start, the vet check and the musher’s meeting. The latter resulted in a $500 fine.

“I’m 23 years old, not that that’s an excuse,” he said.

“I’m just trying to get things together. And I made it across the starting line, and I’m here with my 12 dogs, so mission accomplished.

“There are only a few minor things, like not having a handler.”

Mushing over King Solomon’s Dome on his way to Dawson, Hessert was happy.

“I was having a happy run and was thinking of doing it again in two years,” he said.

Now, he is filing a protest, but it won’t be considered until after the race.

“I might just continue camping along the trail,” he said.

“Then I don’t even have to wait in Dawson for 36 hours; I might gain some time.

“And my dogs are well rested.

“It doesn’t make sense to have pulled me out of the race.”

“The race shouldn’t be all about multimillionaires who can afford it,” said Hugh Neff’s partner Tamra Reynolds.

“Someone said T.J needed a girlfriend,” she added with a grin.

“But with no house and 40 dogs living in his truck?”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

d
Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Premier Sandy Silver speaks to media after delivering the budget in the legislature in Whitehorse on March 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Territorial budget predicts deficit of $12.7 million, reduced pandemic spending in 2021-2022

If recovery goes well, the territory could end up with a very small surplus.

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25 after two masked men entered a residence, assaulted a man inside with a weapon and departed. (Black Press file)
Two men arrested after Dawson City home invasion

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25.… Continue reading

Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters at a news conference in Whitehorse on Dec. 21, 2017. New ATIPP laws are coming into effect April 1. (Chris Windeyer/Yukon News file)
New access to information laws will take effect April 1

“Our government remains committed to government openness and accountability.”

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Most Read