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Yukon Quest sign-ups underway as mushers prepare for unusual season

Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 5:53 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -

Over a dozen sled dog mushers signed up in-person for 2021 Yukon Quest at the Fox Community Center on Saturday. Under the name, 'Summit Quest 300’, it will be the only Yukon Quest race offered this year, as the United States-Canadian border closure prevented the traditional, 1,000-mile international event from taking place. In September, the Yukon office announced the decision to cancel this year’s 38th running of the Yukon Quest on the Canadian side.

The Alaska Summit Quest will follow the same trail as the Yukon 300; starting in Fairbanks, heading to Circle and then backtracking to Central. While several mushers signed up in -person, the Yukon Quest board is still gathering applications that were sent via email or web, which will have a capacity of 35 mushers for the race. The Yukon Quest is set to begin on February 13, 2021 at 11 a.m. in Fairbanks at a location still to be determined. Mushers who have signed up include Hugh Neff, James Foster, Dave Turner, JJ Levy, Tabitha Hughes, Phillip Hanke, Kai Ledy, Will Troshynski, Jodie Bailey, Leigh Pagle, Dan Kaduce, Laura Ekland, Benjamin Good, and Deke Naaktgeboren, among others.

The current entry fee for the race is $500 and will increase to $600 on November 1. The purse will consist of all entry fees, where the winner of the race will receive 40%, second place will earn 30%, 15% for third place, 10% for fourth, while fifth place will receive 5% of the purse.

The Summit Quest 300 application is available on their website, while donations towards the Yukon Quest can be sent here.

Will Troshynski

At this time last year, Troshynski was signed up and ready to go for his first attempt at the Yukon Quest. While training, he and his team encountered a porcupine, creating a setback where he ultimately had to withdrawal before the race.

“It took my season totally out, it cost about $10,000 to get all the dogs back," said Troshynski, who was born in Wyoming. "The awesome thing is they’re all back, because porcupines can be really rough. We’re going to conquer it this time.”

Troshynski, 35, plans to use the Summit Quest as a tune up for the Iditarod, which he signed up for recently as well. He learned the mushing ropes from Martin Buser, a four-time Iditarod champion. Troshynski runs his own kennel now, ATAO (Adventure, Truth, Accountability, Onward), and hopes to pass the team’s message along as he continues to mush dogs.

“I am a big advocate for mental health awareness, that is a huge thing for us," he said. "I think mushing can represent conquering some of those big goals that are really difficult to overcome. Our kennel moto is ‘onward’, so even when things get really, really hard and it seems like you can’t get through some of the stuff ahead of you, you got to just keep moving forward and going onward, so that is our message to the world.”

Leigh Pagle

Leigh Pagle was just 50 miles away from the finish line in her first Yukon Quest 300 attempt last year, before having to scratch.

“Really, it fell more on me, I was not as prepared as the dogs were, so I am definitely looking forward to just having more information this time around.”

Pagle owns and operates ‘Howls Moving Kennel’ and took the first step in conquering the 2021 race by signing up at the Fox Community Center on Saturday.

“I am absolutely hooked on the sport because it gets me out there, I am doing something all winter, I am really where I want to be in the elements,” she said. “I have always wanted to travel with my dogs, but they were never allowed anywhere. I finally decided to just do something where I can travel with my dogs all the time and so that was mushing and now I get to see more of Alaska through the races.”

Phillip Hanke

Hanke, who is originally from Kansas, made his way to the Last Frontier as a research technician at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is currently a dog handler who is attempting to take on the sport as a musher.

“I have done a 200 mile race, but I got dead last," said Hanke. “If I don’t get first, second, third or a prize, I would like to come home with the Red Lantern [last place] and that way I have another Red Lantern to keep at home.” he added with a laugh.

Hanke spent the winter training with the team and is ready to take on his first Yukon Quest, which features the intimating Eagle Summit.

“The best thing I’ve heard about Eagle Summit is that it’s not how hard you push the team, but your relationship and if your team trusts you, you’re going to be able to push them and be able to help you out get to the top and then back down.”

Copyright 2020 KTVF. All rights reserved.

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