Neff is First Quest Musher to Dawson City
Allen Moore, enters the midway point of the Yukon Quest on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, at the checkpoint in Dawson City. Photo by Jeff Richardson/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
DAWSON CITY, Yukon — As the first musher into Dawson City during this year’s Yukon Quest, Hugh Neff can stake his claim to 4 ounces of placer gold. Just don’t call the defending champion the favorite in the 1,000-mile race.
After passing beneath the checkpoint banner at 1:10 p.m. Tuesday, the Tok musher didn’t take long to joke with the waiting crowd that he shouldn’t be considered the leader.
“Allen Moore has me beat,” Neff said with a smile. “I just want to get the gold.”
Moore, of Two Rivers, arrived about two hours later, tired but optimistic about the second half of the race. Although one of his 13 dogs arrived riding in his sled with a sore shoulder, Moore said his team is performing well.
When asked whether he was enticed by the mid-point gold prize to speed his pace, Moore made his priorities clear. He modeled this year’s rest-run schedule after previous Quest champions and said he wouldn’t change it to make a run at the Dawson award.
“The gold, or the goal? That could be the question,” he said.
Despite the Quest’s use of SPOT Trackers to monitor mushers along the trail, the outcome Tuesday was in doubt until Neff arrived in Dawson. Moore’s tracker stopped transmitting nearly a half-day earlier, which left his location on the trail a mystery.
Despite that, Moore said he had an uneventful run. That was a sharp contrast to Neff, who had to endure a few pitfalls along the way, including a brutal three-hour climb up 4,002-foot King Solomon’s Dome and a section of the trail destroyed by a snowmachine. Once he got past that obstacle, his team tangled with three loose dogs they encountered, he said.
Neff said Moore has a more rested team and should be tough in the second half of the race. Quest mushers will all take a mandatory 36-hour rest in Dawson before departing.
“We still have a long way to go,” Neff said.
Neff said claiming the traditional prize at the Quest’s halfway point is about more than money, though it has a value of more than $6,000 at current prices.
The “poke of gold” that comes with the Dawson City Award goes to the first musher to reach the checkpoint and then go on to complete the race. Neff pulled into Dawson first in 2011 but never collected the gold because he scratched before reaching the finish line.
He said winning the mid-race prize, in his “spiritual home” of Dawson, was unfinished business.
Moore said he’d be happy to flip last year’s Quest scenario, when he claimed the Dawson City Award but was edged by 26 seconds at the finish line in Whitehorse.
Moore and his wife, former Quest champion Aliy Zirkle, have endured some tough finishes lately. Zirkle was the runner-up in the 2012 Iditarod and lost the mid-distance Yukon Quest 300 by 8 seconds Monday night.
“One of these days, we’ll come out on the good end of this,” Moore said with a grin. “We’re due.”
Moore was followed about five hours later by Jake Berkowitz, the 2012 rookie of the year. The Big Lake musher said he’s disappointed at his third-place status but feels there’s plenty of time to make it up with a healthy 14-dog team.
“I’m happy to be in Dawson, but it’s not a relaxing 36 hours,” he said. “We’re going to spend a lot of time pampering these dogs, and we’re going to leave here with the best possible dog team.”
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Below, Tok musher Hugh Neff moves his team to the Dawson City checkpoint on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. As the first musher to the checkpoint, Neff puts himself in position to claim 4 ounces of placer gold. Photo by Jeff Richardson/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.