After Hugh Neff heard the frontrunners had run 169 kilometres from Stepping Stone to Carmacks without stopping, he decided to follow suit.
But he only had seven dogs, and the run took him 17 hours.
“I heard on the radio Lance (Mackey) and Ken (Anderson) did it, so I figured, ‘Oh well,’” said Neff, eating breakfast at the Carmacks checkpoint on Tuesday morning.
After their run, Mackey and Anderson rested in Carmacks for nine hours.
But Neff only rested four.
The dogs “are breathing,” he said.
“The leaders are veterans and know where we’re at,” he added.
“As for the younger ones, who knows.”
Neff pushed his team to get a sense of how the other teams were looking, he said.
“This is where some start to falter, but they look like they are all pretty tough squads.”
During his long run, Neff stopped to snack his team regularly.
“I’m not going to push too hard the rest of the way,” he said.
“I’m going to rest here six to eight hours.”
But Neff left about five minutes behind Dave Dalton and Michelle Phillips, after only four hours of rest.
Dalton ran the 118 kilometres from Pelly Crossing to Carmacks straight, but Phillips took a three-hour rest after McCabe Creek.
“The dogs are happier that way,” she said, hanging up her gear in the furnace room at the Carmacks checkpoint.
“I don’t want to watch them stagger down the trail; I’d rather see them happy.
“I don’t want to run 10 hours and rest three like everybody else — it doesn’t make me feel good.”
“There’s still 180 miles to go,” she added.
Although he ran straight through, Dalton’s dogs are doing well, he said.
“I snacked them every hour.”
It’s better to run at night when it’s cool and rest through the heat of the day, he added.
Dalton, who arrived in Carmacks a few hours ahead of Phillips, was hoping to keep an eye on her.
“And it’s easier to keep an eye on her when I’m ahead of her,” he said.
While Dalton and Phillips were resting at the checkpoint, Fairbanks musher Brent Sass blew through.
“I have lots of catching up to do,” he said as he riffled through his drop bags, pulling out meat and kibble.
Sass was hit with what he believes was food poisoning just after he passed Scroggie Creek, 159 kilometres from Dawson.
After a 10-hour rest, he started off with his team, but only made it 45 kilometres.
“I hit a wall,” he said.
“I couldn’t keep going, I was feeling too sick.”
Sass, who was in third place, fell behind after resting another 10 hours.
When he didn’t arrive at the next checkpoint, people began to speculate that he’d pushed his dogs too hard.
The young musher had been doing some long 16-hour runs with his team.
Reports came in that Sass was seen walking in front of his dogs.
But the dogs were fine, said Sass.
“It was totally me.”
In great shape, Sass usually runs up the hills beside the sled, but once he “got the plague,” his nine-dog team kicked into high gear and pulled him up Eureka Dome.
“I’m proud of them,” he said.
When he passed through Carmacks, Sass hadn’t slept for 30 hours.
“I’m still a bit weak,” he said.
But he’d eaten well in Pelly.
Sass was surprised he was still in the race for third.
“I thought I’d be out of it,” he said.
Dalton arrived in Braeburn with 10 dogs and began his mandatory eight-hour layover at 1:15 a.m. on Wednesday.
Phillips and her eight dogs were 27 minutes behind him and Sass pulled in at 2:58 a.m.
At 9:20 a.m., Neff still hadn’t arrived.
The third,- fourth- and fifth-place finisher are expected in Whitehorse sometime after 9 p.m. on Wednesday.