Trucking dogs just too easy, for some

When LeRoy Shank heard Yukon Quest officials had decided to truck dog teams from Chena Hot Springs checkpoint to Mile 101, he was disappointed.

When LeRoy Shank heard Yukon Quest officials had decided to truck dog teams from Chena Hot Springs checkpoint to Mile 101, he was disappointed.

“Maybe they should just go to a 30-mile sprint track and run around it 100 times,” said the Quest co-founder.

“Then they can stay warm every night too.”

On Friday, race marshal Doug Grilliot decided to truck teams after volunteers took a look at the trail over Rosebud Summit.

“There is not a lot of snow and there are steep descents over shaley, sharp rock,” said Grilliot.

“We thought long and hard about it, and don’t want to change the integrity of the race, or take anything away, but the trail is not adequate for safe travel for drivers or dogs.

“There is not enough snow to hook a brake and control a 14-dog team safely.”

The Quest trail from Chena to Mile 101 is approximately 64 kilometres.

But to drive around by road takes roughly four hours.

Grilliot originally gave mushers and handlers eight hours to make the trek.

But after learning the highway over Eagle Summit was closed on Saturday night, he extended it to 13 hours.

Mushers wouldn’t find out about the change until they arrived in Chena.

“It’s not a race,” said Grilliot.

“It’s a dangerous road and we don’t want anyone to feel rushed.”

It’s probably more work to truck the dogs than run over the summit, said Shank.

“And they might get in a car wreck driving around.

“So what is safe?”

After Mile 101, teams head over Eagle Summit, he added.

“Now, is that safe?”

Shank wants to see the race kept as simple as possible.

“No one makes you sign up for this,” he said.

And if they are trucking teams to protect the dogs, then why are they running at minus 45 degrees Celsius? said Shank.

“That’s probably tougher on the dogs than a couple of miles of dirt.”

New Hampshire rookie Mike Ellis, who’s running a team of Siberian huskies, wanted to see the whole trail.

“It adds another level of stress, putting them back in the truck,” he said.

“And it’ll change the way people run the first leg of the race.”

The good news was Ellis thought he would no longer be running over Eagle summit in the dark, he said.

“I’m psyched I get to see myself drop off the face of the Earth.”

Wisconsin rookie Donald Smidt was also disappointed.

“Trucking will definitely change the dogs’ attitudes,” he said.

“They’ll just think it’s another training run. And it’ll take another 100 miles, or so, for them to get back into it.”

The other problem is dogs will be fresh going over Eagle summit, said Tagish musher Michelle Phillips.

“I’d like it if it could be smaller teams and we’d pick up dogs in Central.”

Driving a fresh team over Eagle adds “a whole new element of nervousness,” said Becca Moore.

But the Alaskan rookie was happy the dogs were being trucked around Rosebud.

“It’s brilliant,” she said.

“Why would you send a perfectly happy dog team that trusts you into a blatantly dangerous situation?”

Alaskan rookie Phil Joy, who was airlifted off Eagle with his team during the storm two years ago, was also worried.

“Having a fresh team to go over the mountain is not necessarily a good thing,” he said.

But he was happy to be trucking around Rosebud.

“I went over there in ’06, and the thought of those hills with no snow — it’s a good way to wreck sleds, and more importantly, dogs.”

Besides Smidt and Ellis, Dawson’s Cor Guimond and Fairbanks veteran Brent Sass wanted to run the whole trail.

“I wish we’d gone over Rosebud,” said Sass.

Because of the road closure and the 15-hour delay, Quest 300 mushers, who left Fairbanks around 5 p.m. on Saturday, started catching up with the slower Questers at Mile 101 by Sunday afternoon.

The Quest 300 mushers only had a 10-hour wait period.

“They matched up where we like them,” said Grilliot.

“The faster 300 mushers are always integrated with the slower Quest mushers at this point.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at gkeevil@yukon-news.com