Updated Feb. 15, 2017:
Matt Hall was feeling the pressure as he approached the finish line of the Yukon Quest in Fairbanks.
The musher from Two Rivers, Alaska, wasn’t worried about dropping the lead — by that point it would take an act of God for that to happen.
Instead, he had a bit of stage fright.
“It’s a little scary actually,” said Hall. “I was hesitating coming in because I was like, ‘Man, there’s so many people, there’s so much pressure, this is crazy!’ I didn’t expect to win the race. I wanted to get a little better every year, be hot on those guys’ tail.
“It’s definitely an overwhelming feeling right now. Just looking around me right now, it’s like, wow, this really happened.”
Hall won his first Quest title in the 34th annual race on Feb. 14. He reached the finish at 12:04 p.m. Alaska time, seven hours ahead of two-time champ Hugh Neff of Tok, Alaska, in second.
It marks the sixth most decisive win in the race’s history.
Allen Moore, also of Two Rivers, pulled in just after 10 p.m. for third. It is the 51-year-old’s sixth straight time placing top-three with wins in 2013 and 2014.
Fairbanks’ Paige Drobny took fourth for her highest placing to date. She was 14th in her two previous Quests.
10 Mile’s Ed Hopkins placed fifth for a second year in a row, finishing as the top Yukoner (and Canadian) in this year’s race. This was the 52-year-old’s ninth Quest and his sixth top-10 finish. (A Yukon musher hasn’t won the Quest since Whitehorse’s Hans Gatt notched his fourth title in 2010.)
At press time on Feb. 15, 10 teams were still on the trail with Swede Torsten Kohnert nearing Fairbanks. Six mushers, including 2015 champ Brent Sass, have scratched from the race.
Hall finished the 1,600-kilometre journey with a time of 10 days, one hour and seven minutes. It’s the seventh fastest time recorded in the direction of Whitehorse to Fairbanks.
This was Hall’s fourth Yukon Quest, but his first time finishing in Fairbanks. He placed fourth last year and third in 2014 — both years in which it finished in Whitehorse. He scratched in 2015, the previous time the race finished in Fairbanks.
“That one time coming this way we didn’t make it past Pelly (Crossing), so in a sense you could argue for 750 miles of this race I was kind of a rookie on it,” said Hall. “Of course you know the checkpoints and the hills, where to camp your dogs, where to get water, mileage points — things like that.
“I guess it worked out.”
With the win Hall will receive a prize of US$22,716 from the race’s $120,000 purse.
At just 25, Hall was the second youngest in this year’s field and the youngest to win since Alaska’s Dallas Seavey won it at age 23 in 2011.
Hall, who won the Copper Basin 300 last year, has collected numerous post-race awards in his three previous Quests. He was named Rookie of the Year in 2014, the same year he pocketed the Challenge of the North Award for perseverance. He was also given the Veterinarian’s Choice Award for demonstrating superior care of his dogs during the race in 2014 and 2016.
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org