Not all the rabbits on this year’s Quest trail are cute and furry.
Some are scruffy, wiry and drive dogs.
“I might be the first to be here,” said Skagway musher Hugh Neff after reaching the initial checkpoint at Braeburn Lodge two hours before anyone else on Saturday night.
“But I’m not going to be the first to leave.”
Six hours later, Neff blasted out of the checkpoint first.
The rabbit is the musher in the front of the pack — the one who leaves scent on the trail for the rest of the teams to follow.
It’s not usually the position of choice.
“There were lots of rabbits and predators out there tonight,” said Neff before he left.
He was talking about the cute, furry type.
“It was a fun run with lots of action in the woods.”
Reigning Quest champ Lance Mackey pulled in three hours later.
“I hadn’t seen any wildlife in the last two years on this race,” he said.
“And tonight I saw deer up on the bank just watching us go by.”
He was also chasing a rabbit.
It’s too early to start worrying about what others are doing, said Mackey.
“We got a long way to go and I’m in no hurry.
“Besides, my dogs are fat. So you can’t run them real fast or they’ll hurt themselves.”
But by Carmacks, Mackey was the rabbit, pulling in half an hour before Alaska’s Dave Dalton, and 3.5 hours before Neff.
“I’m racing to Dawson,” he said.
After winning it last year, Mackey wants the gold.
To enter next year’s All American Sweepstakes, a 404-mile winner-takes-all race with a $100,000 purse, the mushers have to pay a steep entry fee and cough up an ounce of gold.
“I made a deal with Erin Burmeister,” said Mackey.
Both mushers plan to enter the sweepstakes, and whoever gets to Dawson first, if they can pull it off, will give the other an ounce of gold to pay their entry fees.
With the race to Dawson underway, Neff was happy to have shed the rabbit skin.
“Mackey’s the rabbit and I’m the wolf,” he said grabbing more supplies in Carmacks.
But then, things got confusing.
Mackey was still resting in Carmacks when Neff blew through.
Out ahead of the pack, leaving 90 minutes before Gerry Willomitzer, he once again became the rabbit.
“Mackey has all kinds of tricks up his sleeve, but I’m in no rush at all,” said William Kleedehn in Braeburn.
“The first day you only get into trouble — you can’t win the race, but you can lose it.”
Willomitzer, after riding his new seat to the first checkpoint, complained about his sore bum.
But his back is feeling great.
“At the beginning you do the pace you want to do — it’s good to be alone,” he said.
But by Carmacks, things weren’t so relaxed.
Following Neff, Willomitzer, Kleedehn, Hans Gatt, Michelle Phillips, Erin Burmeister and Sebastian Schnuelle all pulled through the second checkpoint within an hour.
Then, somewhere between Carmacks and Pelly Crossing, Neff and Mackey switch roles again.
Mackey bounded into Pelly at 5:45 a.m., 21 minutes ahead of “the wolf.”
But Neff’s just not a natural predator.
Only resting in Pelly for 57 minutes, he once again hopped out ahead of the pack.
Dave Dalton was the third musher to Pelly, arriving at 7:46 a.m.