The Yukon Quest trail is in the best condition Frank Turner has ever seen.
And after running 23 Quests, he’s seen a few.
But the first-rate track hasn’t been great for the furry athletes.
Alaskan musher Regina Wycoff pulled into McCabe Creek with 12 dogs.
She was going to drop one, but Quest vets were concerned about another with a grossly swollen wrist.
Wycoff didn’t want to drop the dog.
“He’s not limping,” she said.
“If it was hurting, wouldn’t he be limping?”
The vet explained that the other leg was probably just as sore, because the dog had been compensating.
Wycoff wasn’t convinced.
She wanted a second opinion.
Most dogs on her team have raw patches on the backs of their legs.
This was from breaking trail early in the season, she said.
And she thought this might be what was irritating the dog’s swollen wrist.
But the hard-packed trail is also causing a number of wrist and shoulder injuries, say mushers.
By the time the racers reached Pelly Crossing, more than 50 sled dogs had been dropped.
And Carcross musher Catherine Pinard scratched.
The hard-packed trail is allowing teams to go too fast.
“My dog team doesn’t usually haul like they are now,” said Kyla Boivin.
Getting ready to leave Pelly on Tuesday morning, the Whitehorse musher was still battling a cough, fever and possible pneumonia.
“I’m going to start taking some of my dog’s medication,” she said.
“I have lots of dog drugs and no people drugs.”
Boivin isn’t the only one feeling rough.
“Most of my dogs are injured,” she said.
However, the majority of the injuries are wrists, and she can fix them.
“You can work them through by rubbing them and wrapping them,” she said.
“As long as you’re diligent and look after them, you can run.”
Pinard’s team was another story.
Even before the race started, she was dealing with injured dogs.
“There are eight in my yard right now that were supposed to be on the race,” she said.
As a result, Pinard ended up running a lot of young dogs that are generally more prone to injury.
“Young dogs haven’t really fully developed their muscles until two or three,” said Alaskan musher John Schandelmeier.
“But from four to seven they’re bulletproof.”
“If I had eight healthy dogs, I’d be OK,” said Pinard, assessing the remains of her team in Pelly.
“But one of my two remaining leaders has a (sore) wrist and a shoulder and the other was stiff leaving McCabe.”
Going another 1,200 kilometres with the team seemed impossible to Pinard.
“The one and two year-olds are still having fun now,” she said.
“And I don’t want that feeling to fade off.”
Pinard was disappointed, but not surprised, after all the recent training injuries.
“I would have liked to run the whole race,” she said.
“I wasn’t preparing all year just to scratch in Pelly.”
Kiara Adams faced a similar dilemma.
By Pelly, the 19-year-old Annie Lake musher was down to eight dogs.
“Both my leaders have problems,” she said Tuesday morning.
“One has a wrist injury and the other is covering for her so much she just doesn’t want to go.”
Adams was going to take an hour to decide whether to stay in the race.
“They’re not very happy dogs,” she said.
“I just can’t get them to cheer up. And it’s not that I’m not happy out there.”
Adams realized she was feeding her team too much, and cut back.
This helped perk them up a little bit, she said.
A happy team is not necessarily a barking, lunging team, said rookie Brent Sass, who stopped briefly in Pelly to re-outfit Monday night.
While he reloaded the sled, his team stood quietly.
“There’s been some wrist stuff,” he said, packing a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream into his sled.
“But they’ve all pulled out of it.”
At the first checkpoint, Sass dropped Silver, the lead dog that led him through last year’s storm on Eagle Summit to win the Quest 300.
“After losing Silver we realized we had work ahead of us,” said Sass, wrestling a bale of straw onto his already stuffed sled.
“But the team has risen to the occasion.”
It was Sass who picked up Japanese rookie Yuka Honda after she lost her team outside Braeburn on Sunday.
Last year, he also picked up stranded 300 musher Randy Chappel, who lost his team on Eagle Summit.
“I guess I’m always in the right place at the right time,” Sass said with a smile.
The next stretch of trail is long and lonely.
It’s 323 kilometres from Pelly to Dawson, and mushers have to climb through the Black Hills and over King Solomon’s Dome, which rises 1,200 metres.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Sass, who started mushing just to camp with his dogs.
“They do well, and I do well when we’re just out there,” he said.
Then, with a quiet call to Silver’s protégée, Ling Ling, Sass and his silent huskies slid into the night.