Lost musher loses faith in Quest

DAWSON CITY Didier Moggia plans to run a 1,600-kilometre race next year. But it probably won’t be the Yukon Quest.

DAWSON CITY

Didier Moggia plans to run a 1,600-kilometre race next year.

But it probably won’t be the Yukon Quest.

“Less mushers scratch in the Iditarod than the Quest,” said the Fox Lake musher.

Moggia scratched at the Mile 101 dog drop on day three of this year’s Quest.

And he thinks the organization is partly to blame.

“I made a bunch of little mistakes,” he said.

Moggia packed his warmest dog coats in drop bags destined for later checkpoints, realizing too late that he needed them at the start.

And he did a training run on the Chena River a few days before the race, when it was too cold.

But the biggest mistake was not Moggia’s.

There weren’t enough trail markings between the North Pole dog drop, 53 kilometres from Fairbanks, and the Chena Hot Springs checkpoint, another 106 kilometres away.

“There were no markers,” he said, in a thick French accent.

“And there were so many different trails.”

Moggia would stop, tie his team to a tree, and then get down on his hands and knees to look for tracks.

But there are so many mushers who train in that area, it was hard to find the Quest trail.

“I would think, ‘maybe here, maybe there,’ and take a chance,” he said.

At one point he ended up at the highway.

“It is too dangerous for the dogs,” he said.

“The race is not enough to kill yourself, or your dogs or someone on the highway — it makes no sense.

“It is not responsible — I have never seen anything like this before on a race.”

Moggia ended up turning his team around five times after taking wrong turns.

And he was not alone.

Former Quest champ Bill Cotter, reigning champ Lance Mackey and veteran musher Bill Pinkham also ended up on the highway.

Pinkham actually got dragged down the highway and tore up his sled.

Turning the team around over and over again is hard on the dog’s morale, said Moggia.

“And I was nervous and not happy, and the dogs could feel that.”

When Moggia got to the Chena checkpoint there were “thousands of markers on the trail. And he noticed another bag of markers in a sled behind a snow machine.

“And I thought, ‘why were they not out there on the trail,’” said Moggia.

He approached a race judge and told the official there were no markers on the trail.

“And he said, ‘I know’ — it makes no sense,” said Moggia.

And things didn’t get much better after he left Mile 101 dog drop.

Again, the trail was poorly marked; Moggia got off it at one point, dropped off a huge ledge of ice and lost his team.

He got a ride from a passing snowmachine and managed to catch his dogs — they were heading back to Mile 101.

Moggia turned them around and headed back up Eagle Summit. On the way, he passed Bruce Milne, who’s team wouldn’t go.

“I told him to follow me,” said Moggia. And the two started making their way up the 1,105-metre mountain.

But, 100 metres from the top, Milne decided to turn around.

Moggia’s dogs saw Milne’s team heading down the mountain and decided to follow.

Moggia untangled his team by taking his dogs off the gangline attaching them to his sled, stringing the line back up the mountain, and re-attaching his dogs.

But they just kept turning back around. “I did this five times,” said Moggia.

Then he decided to wait on the mountain to see if anyone would go by. It was minus 45 degrees Celsius and the wind was cold, he said.

“I realized it was the middle of the night, and nobody is going to pass in the night on crazy Eagle Summit.”

So, he tried pushing his sled up the hill.

“But it wouldn’t move; I am not strong enough,” he said.

Because it is only a 45-kilometre run to Central, Moggia hadn’t packed enough food to feed his team a full meal; he only had snacks.

So, after about seven hours on the mountain, he decided it was time to turn around.

Packing up his gear the next day, Moggia was very emotional about having to scratch.

“When you do long races, the relationship you have with your dogs changes,” he said.

“Your dogs teach you every day what life is.

“You can’t have this same relationship with a car.”

When he lived in France, Moggia used to be a racecar driver.

He doesn’t miss it.

“With a car you can turn the key off and you’re fine,” he said.

“But with a dog you can’t turn the key off and you’re going to have it for a long time — it takes more attention and care.”

And it’s a wonderful feeling, said Moggia.

“If you try and have the same feeling with a car, I think you’re lost.”

Moggia was introduced to dogs when he met his wife. She had three huskies and the two of them went on trips in Europe with the dogs.

“We’d hook them up and run behind the sled,” said Moggia.

The couple realized they needed more and ended up with 10.

“But France is too small for 10 dogs,” he said.

So, they flew to Canada for six months with their recreational team, bought a truck and a trailer for the dogs and started driving.

“When we saw Whitehorse we decided to stay,” said Moggia. And in 2002, they immigrated.

Now the pair has 40 dogs, and Moggia is planning more races.

“I want to put my energy and money and time where it is most productive,” he said.

He is planning to run some 300 and 500-kilometre races, and wants to do another 1,600 kilometre race — probably the Iditarod, he said.

“It’s a big challenge to run 1,000 miles with dogs,” said Moggia.

“And when you run long distances with dogs the feeling is very different and your communication is different.”

Moggia would like to run the Quest again.

“But not until it is better organized,” he said.