A volunteer seen here breaking and checking the Yukon Journey trail in preparation for the race beginning on Feb. 24. (Yukon Journey Facebook)

Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

The Yukon Journey, a 255-mile (410-kilometre) dog mushing race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse, kicks off Feb. 24 at 1 p.m.

The route follows the Yukon Quest trail from Pelly to Whitehorse. The Yukon Quest was cancelled this year due to COVID-19.

There are 11 mushers racing: Jacob Heigers, Hans Gatt, Susie Rogan, Marcelle Fressineau, Kyla Boivin, Connor McMahon, Jason Biasetti, Martine Le Levier, Nathaniel Hamlyn, Paul Hamlyn, and Ed Hopkins.

Susie Rogan is a musher and event organizer. She said that nearly every Yukon long-distance team is participating.

“It’s amazing to get every Yukon musher,” Rogan said.

“It’s a lot of fun people and a lot of strong personalities. At our musher meeting … everybody was cracking up, laughing, like here we are, we’re persevering.”

The three-day race culminated after five months of organizing. Rogan said planning the event from the ground up was an “insane” amount of work, but the community support was excellent. The event will kick off with a long list of sponsors and about 50 community volunteers.

“The support was there, and people seemed really happy,” Rogan said.

Creating a COVID-safe race required extensive planning and permission from First Nations located along the trail. Musher rest stops are located away from community centres to keep things safe for those rural communities, Rogan explained.

The trail was forged by volunteers with some help from Canadian Rangers. Kwanlin Dün land stewards also helped forge the trail between Braeburn and Mandanna Lake.

The planning had to pivot as COVID-19 restrictions changed. When self-isolation was reintroduced to the Yukon, five mushers and a veterinarian had to drop out of the race.

“A lot of people were probably wondering, are they even going to be able to pull this off? There’s no way. We didn’t have very much money compared to the Quest, but we managed and everybody worked their butts off,” Rogan said.

A volunteer seen here breaking and checking the Yukon Journey trail in preparation for the race beginning on Feb. 24. (Yukon Journey Facebook)

“There’s a lot of laughter and relief that it’s really happening … It’s not just a rag-tag bunch going down the trail, we’ve got a professional, well-established race.”

With last week’s cold snap dissipating, Rogan said she’s looking forward to good conditions on the trail.

“Nobody wants to race at -40 C, that’s just gross. It’s not going to be warm up there, it’ll probably be 10 degrees colder than it is (in Whitehorse), but -12 to -28 C is what I’m seeing and that’s just perfect for the dogs and the mushers,” Rogan said.

It has snowed since the paths were forged, thanks to the warming weather, so “the front runners might have to break trail a bit,” she added.

The Yukon Journey is broken into three sections with 20 hours of mandatory rest at two checkpoints. Mushers will travel 81 miles (130 km) from Pelly Crossing to Carmacks; 74 miles (120 km) from Carmacks to Braeburn; and 100 miles (160 km) from Braeburn to Whitehorse.

Three hours’ minimum rest must be taken at the stops in Carmacks and Braeburn.

The 11 mushers — seven of which are Yukon Quest veterans — will depart Pelly Crossing at two-minute intervals.

Mushers are running with a maximum of 12 dogs and a minimum of eight. Each team must finish with at least six dogs.

Teams will finish on Titanium Way in the downtown industrial area on Feb. 26. The front runners will likely arrive around 10:30 a.m., with the last teams arriving later that night, Rogan estimated.

Yukoners can follow the teams’ progress on the Yukon Journey Facebook page. The starting line will also be live-streamed.

The minimum purse for the race is $8,000.

Journey organizers are also inviting Yukoners to make use of the trail. Rogan said a number of fat bikers are planning a long-distance trek after the mushers have left.

“Whether you’re a distance runner, a fat biker, or a skijourer or cross-country skier, get out there and jump onto the trail,” she said.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com

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