Mushers get a lot of credit for winning sled dog races, but ask any of them and they’ll tell you the true credit goes to the dogs.
“For me, I get so much more out of seeing my dogs get the respect they deserve than me winning any trophy,” 2012 Yukon Quest champion Hugh Neff said. “That’s why (winning) is such a special moment to me.”
A bit of surprising news greeted the last Quest musher at the end of his team's 1,000-mile journey.
Ontario dog tour operator Hank DeBruin not only went the distance, he crossed the finish line in the money, collecting an unexpected $3,778 through his team's 13th place showing.
As is customary, the driver of the dead-last team also landed the Red Lantern Award, a distinction more akin to a booby prize. This year the association is more properly a badge of honor, attesting to the spirit of a one who persevered in a race that witnessed nearly half of of those entered scratch.
"What happened to everybody?" DeBruin said, according to bystanders at the finish line in Fairbanks.
TWO RIVERS CHECKPOINT, The young musher stretched and appeared to be shaking out the cobwebs as he left behind the rest cabin's dark interior Tuesday set to his finish a 1,000-mile journey under blazing Interior sun.
Though a rookie on this trail, 23-year-old Dallas Seavey has several finishes in that other race to Nome. And there's that Seavey pedegree, his father, Mitch, a past Iditarod champion, his grandfather, Dan, a top three driver in Iditarod's innaugural '73 race.
"Four minutes," Seavey said, facing the handful of media gathered overlooking four dogs teams resting on straw. Eagle Summit hadn't been that hard, he said. Maybe for others, but his dogs didn't blink.
TWO RIVERS CHECKPOINT: Preparing for the final sprint to the finishline, the lone former champion left standing in the 2011 Yukon Quest wasn't taking anything for granted Tuesday.
"It wasn't pleasant," Sebastian Schnuelle, said of his diog team's passage over Eagle Summit. "Once we came up you could see the ground storm. You could see the haze. Right there it was obvious it would be ugly. Ugly weather."
Schnuelle, who came from behind to win the 2009 race, said this time his team balked. "The first time I didn't even make it 200 yards. I went back u and they turned around again. "I said, '"Oh, here we go.'"
The wild-haired wilderness guide said he, too, could have faltered, joining Hugh Neff, the musher who set the pace through most of the past week, and Dan Kaduce, both of whom saw their dreams of victory swept aside on the Quest's most notorious summit. Instead, Schnuelle regrouped and seized the lead with a decisive push.
And soon handed it off.
At Mile 101, the rest stop at the foot of the infamous mountain, he elected to rest his team, allowing Ken Anderson and rookie Dallas Seavey pass by.
"It felt right to do," he said. "You have to trust your instinct."