After years of serving as a Yukon Quest checker in his hometown of Eagle, Matt Hall saw things from a new perspective late Tuesday night.
A welcoming committee awaited the Quest rookie when Hall drove his team into Eagle, the final checkpoint in Alaska in the 1,000-mile international sled dog race. Hall, 22, was the fifth musher to reach the remote village where he grew up.
"This is actually the first year since I'm old enough to remember that I have not been a checker ... right here, right now," Hall said in a report on the Quest website. "It feels a little different, that's for sure. Even last year, which was my first year being out of Eagle, me and a few other teams still mushed in to visit my folks during the Quest. Came in on the trail, stayed here, and still volunteered here, watched the teams come through."
Hall's dad is a Quest veteran and his mother is a Quest volunteer. Once Hall decided to pursue sled dog racing, he relocated to Two Rivers near Fairbanks, a hotbed for mushers.
Neither he nor his dogs have forgotten their roots. Hall said the dogs seemed to know they were back home as they neared Eagle.
"They're cruising along. We just passed home and I said 'gee' once and they jumped away from home -- even sped up, heading in towards town," he said.
After spending several hours in Eagle, Hall and his team returned to the trail, headed for the race's halfway point in Dawson City, Yukon.
Already at the famous old gold rush town were race leader Brent Sass of Eureka, who finished third a year ago, and Allen Moore of Two Rivers and Hugh Neff of Tok, the men who beat Sass last year.
As the first musher to Dawson City, Sass will collect four ounces of placer gold -- as long as he reaches the finish line in Whitehorse. The gold goes to the first musher who reaches Dawson City and goes on to complete the race.
Sass arrived at 11:02 p.m. with a team of 13 dogs. At 1:30 a.m., defending champion Moore arrived, also with a team of 13. Neff, last year's runnerup and the 2012 champion, followed at 2:39 a.m. with 10 dogs. Hours later, at 7:55 p.m., Cody Strathe arrived in fourth place.
All mushers must take a 36-hour layover in Dawson City.
Hall is on track for rookie of the year honors if he can keep up his pace in the second half of the race.
"I didn't have too much of a plan coming into the Quest this year," he said. "I was just going to do it run-to-run and see where we ended up. I'm really happy with where we're at and how the dogs are looking, so I'd say everything's way ahead of schedule."
All mushers must spend four hours at Eagle before beginning the run to Dawson City, Yukon. Hall stayed an extra four hours, leaving at 4:47 a.m. Wednesday.
"The dogs are looking so good," he said. "I want to keep 'em looking that way. I'm really happy with how they're doing."
Information from yukonquest.com was used in this report.