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Frank Turner’s son follows dad down the Quest trail

It is minus 25, but the wind-chill makes it feel more like minus 50.Braving the blustery night, 26-year-old Saul Turner and 18 of his best sled…

It is minus 25, but the wind-chill makes it feel more like minus 50.

Braving the blustery night, 26-year-old Saul Turner and 18 of his best sled dogs are preparing to run the snow-packed Canol Road, several hours south of Whitehorse.

A bouncing headlamp beam picks up a string of curled husky tails. Frozen puffs of breath rise from the waiting team.

It is the beginning of another 120-kilometre run and the barking, tugging sled dogs can’t wait.

After fastening the last dog bootie, Turner throws on his parka, tugs up the snow hook and is away.

It’s suddenly silent.

There is a swoosh of runners on hard-packed snow, the pattering of running husky paws and then only the soft glow of Turner’s tiny headlamp fading into the snowy night.

He will run his team for five hours, stopping several times to feed them snacks of frozen fish or horsemeat.

After this first leg, Turner will bed his team down in the bush for five hours beside Quiet Lake, feeding them hot water, kibble and meat before running them back to the dog truck, parked where he started.

Then, after a 12-hour break he will head out again, this time for an eight-hour run.

It sounds like a grueling routine, but Turner, who is training for his first Yukon Quest, is well prepared.

The son of veteran Quest musher Frank Turner, Saul was born with racing in his blood.

“I’ve been riding in a sled since it was safe enough for me — I was about two the first time,” he said.

Bundled in sleeping bags, he would go on six-hour training runs with his father.

“The sound of the runners and the gentle movement was soothing; I spent a lot of time sleeping,” Saul said.

However, Frank can remember one time, when, fresh off the start, he lost his team and watched his young son bounce off down the trail behind the excited dogs in the over-turned sled.

At three, Saul placed second in his first race, a 100-metre, one-dog sprint.

And a year later, in 1984, his father entered the first Yukon Quest.

Now, after racing in all 22 Quests and holding the fastest finish time to date, Frank is passing the torch to his son.

But Saul did not always follow willingly in his father’s footsteps.

“There was a time, between the ages of 13 and 18, when I wanted nothing to do with dogs,” he said.

“Poop scooping was definitely not for me, and feeding was a task.”

More than 100 hyper huskies filled the front yard of his boyhood home, so it’s hard to blame him.

When he was 16, Saul moved east to live with his mother. After several years of college, he became a bartender in Ottawa, but returned north several times to help his father train for the Quest.

During one of these visits, in 2004, he competed in the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race, a 338-kilometre run that follows the Yukon River from Dawson City to Eagle, Alaska.

“I didn’t pass or get passed by anyone my whole time on the river — 210 miles and it made we wonder what it was all about,” he said.

“There was a big windstorm, which blew out the trail, so I was walking up there with my lead dogs zigzagging back and forth trying to feel the hard-packed trail under the snow.”

Despite the adverse weather, he completed the race with a healthy team.

The Percy DeWolfe whetted his appetite for the sport, and that fall Saul returned to the Yukon for good.

He found construction work building the new multiplex and found love with Fabienne Bruelhart, one of the guides working for his father’s outfitting business.

Yesterday evening, the couple became the happy parents of Myla Turner, born in time to witness her father’s first Quest.

“Minus those years between 13 and 18, I have always felt an inkling to run the Quest and find out what it’s all about,” said Saul.

“I want to find out why my dad has run it every year.”

“It’s addictive,” admitted Frank, standing by his kitchen table with several retired sled dogs sleeping at his feet.

“Maybe Saul and I will run it together some day. That’s what he’s always wanted.”

Frank remembers going on a run when his son was 15.

“I turned back to help him and suddenly realized he didn’t need my help anymore — it was a passing,” he said.

“Now I ask Saul for advice; he has a different perspective and comes up with some good ideas.”

Saul plans to pick his father’s brain as well, to learn all the twists, turns and tricks of the Quest trail.

The truth is, however, that each year offers its share of surprises, whether it’s ice, overflow, open water, whiteouts, cold or winds.

This year a lack of snow has forced many local mushers to travel north to Alaska and Dawson City to find suitable training conditions.

Saul has not set himself any placing goals, although he’s interested in the rookie-of-the-year award and the vets’ choice award, presented to the musher with the healthiest team.

“I want to keep my dogs happy,” he said.

“Some mushers push their dogs in training. It’s like a boot camp to make the Quest seem easy. But I want to keep my dogs as happy as I can.”

Like his father, Saul uses locally made homeopathic salves and ointments as well as prescription medicines to care for his team.

“It’s my dogs that won the race in 1995,” said Frank.

“ My team taught me what I needed to do. Winning is the icing on the cake, but the cake is being out there with the team.”

And Saul agrees.

“We all work hard, we all get tired, and at the end of the race, each dog will get a sirloin steak,” he said.