The long and icy trail

Kyla Boivin went sliding off a glacier just before she got to the Eagle checkpoint on Saturday night. "There was this nice layer of snow covering the shiny, slick ice," said the Whitehorse musher. She didn't see...

EAGLE, AK

Kyla Boivin went sliding off a glacier just before she got to the Eagle checkpoint on Saturday night.

“There was this nice layer of snow covering the shiny, slick ice,” said the Whitehorse musher.

She didn’t see it coming.

“It was pretty exciting for about five minutes,” she said, eating biscuits and gravy at the checkpoint.

The sled slid down the glacier and caught on a lip just before the precipice.

“It was teetering on the drop,” said Boivin.

The sled was on its side. “If I righted it, it would have pulled me and the dogs down the hill,” she said.

Boivin tried to get up to her dogs.

“I was crawling, slipping and sliding on my face,” she said.

Eventually she managed to pull her team up to where it was flatter and get them going again.

No far behind, Mark Sleightholme followed Boivin’s lead.

“We slid about 10 feet, then we hit the snow edge and rolled,” he said.

A tree came to his rescue.

“I didn’t see (the glaciation) because it was covered with snow,” he said.

“My God, I fell and hit every part of my body,” said Jamaican musher Newton Marshal, who wasn’t too far behind Sleightholme.

Marshal has been “swearing a lot in Jamaican,” especially when he steps in water and gets his feet wet.

“This is a long hard road to travel,” he said. “And I still got a long way to go.”

After talking with Hans Gatt, who owns the team, the rookie musher has picked up his pace.

“Hans said I take too much rest; I better cut it short,” said Marshal.

“It’s a good schedule, but now I have to cut my rest.”

The schedule is on a laminated piece of paper Marshal keeps in his pocket.

“When I’m on the sled my head’s boppin’- I fell asleep quite a few times,” he said.

Marshal’s so tired he’s started hallucinating.

“I see bamboo trees,” he said.

There are people all over the world supporting Marshal with e-mails and calls. He even had a chat with Jimmy Buffet.

“People I don’t even know send me comments, ‘I’m doing good,’” said Marshal.

“But Jamaicans don’t have a clue what I’m doing – they don’t know how tough it is.”

Rookie Luc Tweddell “thought it would be fun the whole time.

“But it’s very tough,” he said.

The Yukon musher thinks about scratching every 80 kilometres, he said.

“But always there is a point where everything is magical and perfect and that small moment keeps you going.”

It’s grueling, said Sleightholme.

The British rookie has two Siberians in England that he hooks up to his bike.

After doing some two-dog cart races in Scotland he decided “it’d be nice to go further and see proper wilderness for days on end, rather than running for 13 minutes around a sprint track.

“Reading about the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, I thought it would be amazing to go this far with a dog team in such a short time,” he said.

A few e-mails later, and he was mushing with Sebastian Schnuelle outside Whitehorse.

Sleightholme, who got on a dog sled for the first time November, wasn’t supposed to race the Quest his first year.

“But after a couple of months, Sebastian offered it to me,” he said.

“And I couldn’t really say no, because that was my goal from the start.”

Sleightholme knew the training would be a lot of work.

“But it’s harder than I thought,” he said. “It’s seven days a week, 24-hours a day.

“If I finish, I’m not sure if I’d want to do it again,” he said.

Sleightholme spends most of his time “watching the dogs’ shoulders and butts, and listening to audio books.”

“The trail is interesting,” he added. “I have no massive desire to get to the end.”

Boivin likes the mountains and the river, “when it’s exciting.”

“But I don’t like droning along when it’s flat and boring,” she said.

“I hate it and so do my dogs.”

The jumble ice coming up on the Yukon didn’t worry Boivin.

“I grew up on the Yukon,” she said.

“I’ve seen bad jumble.

“I won’t say I like jumble ice, but I prefer it to the flat boring shit.”

Marshal is gaining on Boivin.

“Newton’s team is moving at least half-an-hour faster than mine,” she said.

“And climbing hills he’s even faster – he runs like the wind and I’m ski-poling and dragging my fat ass up there.”

Sleightholme, Marshal, Colleen Robertia, Wayne Hall and Tweddell have been bumping into each other on the trail.

But Boivin is travelling alone, at the front of the pack.

“I don’t travel with those guys because I like being alone,” she said.

“If I didn’t like being alone, I wouldn’t be in long-distance dog mushing.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com