Deja Vu on Quest Trail: Moore, Neff Exchange Leads in Front of Pack
Yukon Quest trail veterinarian Sheri Thompson checks out a dog on Hugh Neff's team on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, in Carmacks, Yukon. Photo by Jeff Richardson, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
CARMACKS, Yukon — The early stages of the 2013 Yukon Quest are supplying some deja vu for fans of the race.
After more than a day of competition, Hugh Neff and Allen Moore were in front, exchanging leads during the first 36 hours.
Neff was the champion and Moore the runner-up last year, separated by just 26 seconds at the finish line in Whitehorse.
Moore took the early lead in this year’s race, arriving at the first checkpoint at Braeburn 23 minutes ahead of four-time champion Lance Mackey and nearly an hour ahead of Neff. But while Moore and Mackey rested, Neff blazed through the checkpoint.
Neff said he ran the race based on feel, with his young team working better during the night in unseasonably warm temperatures. He’d planned to make a long camp on the trail, but decided his team was energetic enough for more.
Later, Neff arrived in Carmacks on about 10 minutes sleep, he said, but brimming with energy. He chatted with race officials in Carmacks about Hawaiian vacation destinations and shouted with a smile to the waiting crowd, “No sleep allowed in Neff world!”
After a long nap, Neff lounged in the checkpoint as part of a nearly 6-hour rest.
“It’s something I learned from Lance,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.”
Moore took a more deliberate approach to resting his team, taking a nearly 5 hour break in Carmacks after more than 4 hours in Braeburn.
Despite concerns about warm weather bogging down teams in the early days of the Yukon Quest, times didn’t seem to be suffering much among the leaders on Sunday.
Both Moore and Neff had blazing runs between Braeburn and Carmacks, leaving the rest of the field hours behind. Neff arrived first, covering the distance in 8 hours, 42 minutes, which was the third-fastest run the leg had ever seen. Moore outdid that, covering the same distance in 8 hours, 11 minutes, just a minute short of Ken Anderson’s 2011 record.
Temperatures crept above freezing on race day in Whitehorse, which is much hotter than sled dogs normally prefer. But Moore said last month’s Copper Basin 300, which was held in similar conditions, helped him gauge his team’s abilities.
“I saw what they could do in warm weather there, so I didn’t have too many concerns,” he said.
Other mushers began to trickle into Carmacks by mid-afternoon Sunday, with Neff and Moore followed by Brent Sass, Dave Dalton, Susie Rogan, Mackey and Normand Casavant.
Mackey said his team was clearly bothered by the warm weather and not too happy with him for racing them in it.
“Have you ever seen a dog give you the middle finger? They can,” Mackey said.
Mackey said two of his dogs were sore at the end of the run to Braeburn, which contributed to his decision to take a 4 1/2 hour layover there. He still reserved his mandatory 4-hour rest for Carmacks, saying he wasn’t feeling any pressure to rush in the early stages of the race.
The decision by most Quest mushers to rest in Braeburn helped ease an anticipated pileup of mushers in Carmacks. Race officials thought resting mushers from both the Yukon Quest and mid-distance Yukon Quest 300 would arrive in the little Yukon town at roughly the same time, creating a busy bottleneck.