Four years ago Yukoner Michelle Phillips won the Yukon Quest 300 by just eight seconds. She had a lot more breathing room this time around.
The 48-year-old captured her third Quest 300 title in Pelly Crossing on Feb. 6 with over three hours to spare.
“It feels great. I’m super happy,” said Phillips, who finished with her full team of 12 dogs. “The race went pretty good. The team performed really well — a really happy, upbeat group, moved along real nice. We had a good run, a good time.”
The win marks a three-peat of sorts. Phillips, who lives in 10 Mile (halfway between Carcross and Tagish), won the race the previous two times it started in Whitehorse — in 2013 and 2015.
Her husband Ed Hopkins is racing the Quest 1,000 for his ninth time but has only done it twice in the direction of Fairbanks to Whitehorse.
“We mostly run the Quest when it’s going this direction,” said Phillips. “Ed and I have two teams, so this is a really good opportunity to train our second team while he’s running the Yukon Quest, and I can drive to Dawson and take care of the dogs.”
Phillips completed the 300-mile (482-kilometre) journey from Whitehorse through Pelly Crossing to Stepping Stone and back to Pelly in two days, four hours and 54 minutes.
Two Rivers, Alaska, musher Aliy Zirkle, who won in 2014, reached the finish three hours and 22 minutes later.
Phillips beat Zirkle by just eight seconds to win her 2013 title and outpaced Zirkle by two hours in 2015. Zirkle, 47, became the first woman to win the full-length Quest in 2000 and has placed second in the Iditarod three times.
This year Phillips led for the majority of the race. She took the lead on Feb. 5 between Braeburn and Carmacks and held it to the finish on Monday.
There’s “always” bumps along the road in a 300-mile race, said Phillips.
“I lost my team in the jumble ice,” she said. “I wiped out and lost my team, but I caught them again another half kilometre later. Dumped my cooler on the side of my sled — that was pretty memorable.
“Little adventures along the way, most definitely.”
The Fairbanks News-Miner reported that Hopkins was tossed from his sled and lost his team in the same area as his wife.
Yukoners took the next three spots behind Zirkle this week.
Whitehorse’s Nathaniel Hamlyn placed third with a time of two days, 12 hours and 11 minutes. Not only was he a rookie in this year’s race, he was the youngest in the field of 24 starters at just 22 years old.
Mount Lorne’s Magnus Kaltenborn, who placed second in 2010, took fourth.
Shallow Bay’s Gerry Willomitzer, who won in 2011, placed fifth.
So will Phillips be back to race again in two years?
“For sure. Maybe I’ll run the full 1,000 in two years,” said Phillips, who has raced the 1,600-kilometre Quest six times with five top-10 results.
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com