Lance Mackey is still leading the pack.
The fire alarm sounded just after 9 p.m. Sunday night, and vehicles started to roll into the schoolyard at the Pelly Crossing checkpoint.
A crowd was forming, watching the river for that first flash of his headlamp.
Is that him?
No, another Ski-Doo roared up the trail.
Kids were pulling each other on sleds, wiping out and laughing.
A man from Virginia, who had driven up just to watch the Quest with his two dogs, was shivering in a light fall coat.
Word was out, Mackey had been setting record times on his last few runs.
But William Kleedehn and Hans Gatt were not far behind.
Then someone spotted a headlamp moving up the trail.
Here he comes.
No, that’s too fast, it’s another Ski-Doo, said someone in the crowd.
And it was moving fast.
But it was Mackey.
As soon as he stopped his team they started barking and tugging.
“Hear that?” said Mackey.
“That’s the sound of success.”
And his plan?
“To rest as little as possible, and to give them whatever they need to sound like that.”
As he left the warm hospitality of Stepping Stone, a summer retreat upriver that opens for the mushers, offering hot food and a roaring bonfire, he saw Kleedehn and Gatt pull up.
“I saw ’em comin’ just as I was leavin’,” he said.
“I’m just playin’ with them.”
After snacking his team and giving them some love, he came in for a hot meal.
The local Grade 4 to 6 students were raising money for their coming trip to Vancouver and had been serving up homemade fare all day at the Pelly ‘Questaurant.’
Mackey took a minute to look at the other mushers’ times charted on the wall and was surprised to learn Neff had scratched.
He was also surprised to see Gatt and Kleedehn were only an hour and a half behind him now.
“That’s alright,” he said.
“I gained two hours on them before.”
His run was beautiful, he said.
“But not as beautiful as the one I’m fixin’ to have.”
Then he was out, as fast as he was in.
By the time he finished bootying up his team and had walked back to the sled, they were all tugging and barking again, ready to go.
“If that wouldn’t make a person smile, nothing would,” said Mackey.
Gatt and Kleedehn arrived an hour later only two minutes apart.
“I can’t get rid of Hans and I can’t let him get away,” said Kleedehn.
He was hoping to “bugger off” earlier when Hans was sleeping at Scroggie Creek dog drop.
“But then I fell asleep too.”
They were gaining on Mackey, but attributed this to Mackey oversleeping.
“He slept too long at Scroggie too,” said Kleedehn.
“It was all a total disaster.
“If only one of us would have had enough energy to bugger off, that person would have won the race.”
Eating dinner at the checkpoint, they were both a little giddy.
“A couple of days ago we voted on where to finish,” said Gatt.
“But you don’t ask a bunch of mushers who have just run 500 miles to make that decision — we couldn’t think straight.
“All we had to do was write Pelly on the piece of paper and we’d be done by now.”
They both laughed and shook their heads.
“Now we have to turn around run back to Dawson, just to have the same friggin’ result,” said Kleedehn.
“We don’t have time to mess with Mackey, we have to figure out our own mess — who will be second and who will be third.”
Kleedehn hopes to do some logging on the trail.
“That is the only way to stop Hans,” he said laughing.
“Either fall a big tree across the trail or right on him.”
The only way one of these top three will fall behind is if some of their dogs have trouble.
“As soon a dog is being carried in the (sled) basket in all those hills, that musher’s done,” said Kleedehn.
“But you don’t want to wait for this to happen to someone, because then it usually happens to you.
Kleedehn and Gatt kept returning to the fact they actually voted to return to Dawson.
“It is unbelievable,” said Kleedehn shaking his head.
“And over all those hills again,” added Gatt.
“If them dogs could talk, holy shit we’d be in big trouble,” laughed Kleedehn.
“And we voted for this.”
They just kept on laughing and shaking their heads.
Both mushers left Pelly together six hours after Mackey, at 4:30 a.m. Monday.