Whitehorse musher Marcelle Fressineau will have a special dog in her team when she leaves Fairbanks on the Yukon Quest this Saturday.
Lola, an Alaskan husky, was bequeathed to Fressineau by her dying friend. Her last words to the musher: “I hope Lola will run the Quest.”
“At the beginning, when I got her, she was a bad dog and she caused problems with my team when I was training,” said Fressineau. “Now I have about 4,000 kilometres of training and she’s still on the team. So I will take her on the Quest.”
Fressineau is one of four Yukon mushers in a field of 24 racing in this year’s Quest. The 1,600-kilometre dogsled race runs from Fairbanks to Whitehorse this year.
Joining Fressineau in the race are fellow Yukoners Yuka Honda, of Whitehorse, Maren Bradley, of Carcross, and Dawsonite Brian Wilmshurst.
It will be Bradley and Wilmshurst’s first Quest attempts. Since Fressineau and Honda did not finish the Quest in their previous attempts, all four Yukon mushers are considered rookies by Quest standards.
“Rookie” does not seem like an apt description of Fressineau. She has been running dogs for 23 years. The 57-year-old competed at both the Copper Basin and Percy de Wolfe last year and begins her third Quest on Saturday. She scratched in her two previous attempts in 2002 and 2005.
“In 2002 I made many mistakes … and in 2005 my best dogs were injured so I had to scratch,” said Fressineau. “In fact, I’m not a racer, I’m a musher. But I try to put my best dogs in the race and we’ll see what happens.
“I’m very excited and happy to participate because I’ve been preparing myself and my dogs for about two years. So I’m happy to race.”
Wilmshurst has created a buzz in Dawson’s mushing community simply by entering the Quest. It has been five years since a Dawsonite has entered the race.
“I think I’m pretty much ready and I’m pretty excited about it. It should be quite the adventure,” said Wilmshurst. “There are not many Canadians in it – or Yukoners.
“I know a lot of people in Dawson are pretty excited to have a Dawson person running in it. There hasn’t been one in a few years. So the community is excited and has gotten behind me quite a bit.”
Last year Wilmshurst finished ninth in the Quest 300, fourth in the Percy de Wolfe, fifth in the River Runner 100 and sixth in the Gin Gin 200 in Alaska.
He has been running dogs for four years with his B-Line Kennels and is cutting short his five-year plan by a year in starting the Quest this weekend.
“This is only my fourth year, but I figured Fairbanks to Whitehorse is a little easier than Whitehorse to Fairbanks,” said the 30-year-old. “I have a few old dogs and this will be their last race, so I thought I may as well race this year and get the old dogs in there.
“As with any rookie I just hope to get to the finish line and I look forward to the adventure,” he added.
According the Yukon Quest’s website, the last Dawsonite to attempt the Quest was Peter Ledwidge, who scratched from the race in 2007. However, he completed the race and finished fourth in 2004. Dawson’s Rob Cooke is the only Yukoner competing in this year’s Quest 300 race.
Bradley will be racing with dogs from her Persistence Kennel and she knows persistence is exactly what she’ll need in the Quest.
“I would like to finish with a happy dog team; I want to take good care of my buddies,” wrote Bradley in an email to the News. “I imagine dealing with the extreme cold and sleep deprivation is going to be quite a challenge.”
The 28-year-old took third in the women’s division at the 2009 Gin Gin 200, sixth and fifth in the last two Percy de Wolfe races and competed in last year’s Quest 300.
“My team is made up of a lot of young, inexperienced dogs (but) I have a couple of older, wiser mentor-type dogs,” wrote Bradley. “They are all Alaskan huskies.”
The last Carcross musher to compete in the Quest was veteran William Kleedehn. The 12-time Quest musher finished sixth in 2009.
Honda, who has been running dogs for 13 years, has a new, young team ready for the Quest.
“My team is still young – mostly two years old,” said the 39-year-old. “So I have to take it easy, make them happy. And I want to be happy, so I just want to enjoy it. That’s all.”
Honda has raced in the Quest 300 and the Percy de Wolfe. This will be her fourth attempt at the Quest, having raced in 2006, 2007 and 2009. Her best attempt was her last, when she scratched at the Mile 101 dog drop, not far from the finish line in Fairbanks that year.
“This year I’m using all my own dogs,” said Honda. “They grew up with me so they’re my babies … They are still young and want to go, go, go and then they are tired.”
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