On Sunday, Peter Ledwidge proved he is ready to enter the Yukon’s elite mushing circle.
The veteran Dawson City musher outdistanced his competition in the final part of the race and took $3,000 for first place in the 2006 Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race.
“I feel really good. I usually have very similar times going out as coming in, and that is what I count on. I got into Eagle in third and made up the two spots,” he said, just after crossing the finish line.
Ledwidge’s dogs were happy and healthy at the finish line, ready to run again.
A week ago, Ledwidge was training his team on the Yukon River at Dawson.
“They are really strong, he said. “I didn’t run the Quest this year so they are in really great shape for this year’s race.”
If Ledwidge’s goal was to win the 2006 Percy by avoiding the Quest, he made the right choice.
Gerry Willomitzer, Michael Salvisberg and Ledwidge were all a minute apart at Fortymile, which is the final checkpoint before the final five-to six-hour sprint back into Dawson.
“Michael, I passed him just outside Fortymile — on the other side. He had like a 20-minute lead leaving (Eagle). I didn’t know if I’d catch him or not, but I was hoping.”
Ledwidge chose to rest his dogs briefly in Fortymile. That short rest may have given them the extra energy they needed to sprint past Willomitzer, who finished in second, 35 minutes behind the winner.
“(Salvisberg) ran through trying to keep up with me. My dogs were kind of chocked running through Fortymile and not stopping, so I stopped and snacked them. He was right behind me so he did the same thing. I think his dogs were a little tired.”
Salvisberg’s dogs were more than a little tired. He slowed dramatically in the last stretch and finished a distant third, three hours off the pace.
Willomitzer, who finished 5th in this year’s Quest, arrived one minute ahead of Ledwidge and Salvisberg into Fortymile.
Ledwidge was concerned about Willomitzer — not Salvisberg — after leaving Fortymile.
“I was more worried for Gerry after awhile because Gerry was catching up to Michael, so I thought he might have passed Michael. It’s all guesswork.”
With a tailwind, a fast trail and perfect running temperatures, Ledwidge did not have to worry about being caught.
Still, the first-time winner of the race never relaxed.
“I needed a head in a swivel to keep turning around and looking” he said, laughing with relief.
“When you start thinking you’ve got it easy and you don’t have to work too hard, all of a sudden you say, ‘geez not peddling right now could cost me the race.”
Even when Ledwidge came into view of the finish line at Moosehide, approximately one kilometre from the crowd of 30 that gathered to see the winner arrive, he was still working.
That’s where he thought he might have the race won.
“About Moosehide. Then I was thinking, ‘don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. I could get all screwed up crossing the ice bridge and lose my team.”
Ledwidge did not think he would have it so easy in the last section of the race, which was extremely close going into Eagle.
That’s because Salvisberg had a good lead going into Eagle.
“I was ahead of Ed (Hopkins) and Willomitzer and then they caught up with me right at the end and then Gerry passed me and I caught up. Going into Eagle I caught right up to them and I kind of figured I’d have a better team today just because his was slower going into Eagle. That’s what I was hoping would happen to Michael too, he had a really fast run going into Eagle.”
Hopkins finished fourth after dropping three dogs in Eagle.