The annual Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race started March 21 in Dawson City when 16 mushers took to the trail headed for Eagle, Alaska, and back in what is typically a 200-mile (320-kilometre) race.
This year due to bad trail conditions downriver from Forty Mile, the route was changed to send mushers 22 miles (35 km) along the Clinton Creek Road and back again before returning to Dawson, shortening the overall race down to approximately 150 miles (240 km).
Jason Biasetti won for the third year in a row, finishing the race at 8:24 a.m. on March 22.
Coady Lee finished second in this year’s race and Jerry Joinson rounded out the podium in third.
Anna Claxton, president of the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race Committee, said that conditions deteriorated quickly in the lead up to the start.
“River conditions below Forty Mile – from Forty Mile to Eagle, and particularly right near Eagle and getting from the River to Eagle – got really bad, really fast,” said Claxton.
The changes came so suddenly that a number of mushers didn’t find out about the revised route until the pre-race mushers meeting.
“They were all on the drive to Dawson, so there was no way for them to pick up that information,” said Claxton. “Everybody right away was just like, of course that’s what you had to do. This is now the race route, so this is what we’re going to do.”
The new route added a significant climb and descent to the race on top of cutting off a quarter of the length, but if it bothered mushers they didn’t show it.
“Everybody was really just like, ‘OK. This is it. Let’s do this thing,’” said Claxton. “That’s really what sticks out – just the good spirit of everybody involved.”
Credit for the race running so smoothly, Claxton said, is with the community.
“Anybody who’s spent any time here knows this is just a community that gets stuff done,” said Claxton. “We put the route changes into place 24 hours before the start and then that produced a whole bunch of different logistical and organizational challenges for us that we just had to solve immediately to get the race off on time. The community really stepped up and was behind us.”
Volunteers, vets and officials at the Forty Mile checkpoint probably worked between 18 and 20 hours straight, said Claxton.
“(That) is not normally the case – not what they signed up for,” said Claxton. “Everybody just did is so enthusiastically and without complaint.”
This year’s rookie of the year was 46-year-old Pierre Boudreau.
In addition to winning the race, Biasetti also won the sportsmanship award.
Second-place finisher Lee won the vet care award.
In the Percy Junior, which goes from Dawson to Forty Mile and back, this year’s winner was Craig Houghton. Gatean Pierrard was second and Annika Wahlisch was third.
The Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race started in 1977 as a way to pay tribute to Percy DeWolfe who carried mail between Dawson and Eagle from 1910 to 1949 via dog team horse and boat.
Usually, people can buy envelopes over the summer that are then shipped to Eagle during the race as a fundraiser for the race.
“The way it’s supposed to work is the mail gets carried to Eagle by dog team, which of course didn’t happen this year because the dog teams didn’t go to Eagle,” said Claxton, adding some people were a bit disappointed the mail didn’t get through this year but that it was still very much in the spirit of DeWolfe.
“John Borg, the former postmaster in Eagle, … reminded us (DeWolfe) himself only carried the mail to Forty Mile in the last year of his contract, so it’s still true to the spirit of Percy and what we’re trying to do in remembering him in the community.”
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org