FAIRBANKS, Alaska -- In six months, the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race will start for the 30th time. With registration now under way, who exactly will be at that start is beginning to shape up.
A total of 13 mushers signed up for the 1,000-mile dog sled race Saturday, including four-time Quest and Iditarod champion Lance Mackey, who just made the 4 p.m. deadline. Mushers who signed-up Saturday at either the Fairbanks or Whitehorse, Yukon headquarters are eligible to win $1,000.
With Mackey's paperwork and entry fee in, now all the Fairbanks musher said he needs is some snow. He admitted that the last few years have been challenging, both professionally and personally. But that's all straightened out now, Mackey said, and he's ready for a comeback after several years of disappointing finishes.
Mackey placed 22nd in the 2012 Iditarod and 16th in 2011. In last year's Yukon Quest, he placed third, his lowest finish in six races.
“I want to redeem myself,” he said. “I might not have a team that will win, but with one that's trained accurately -- that's going to be hard to beat.”
Two Rivers musher Allen Moore sent in his Quest application Saturday. He will return to the 2013 race for a shot at capturing the title after losing to Hugh Neff by only 26 seconds in February, the closest finish in race history.
While Moore wasn't on hand, Neff was, who took an application packet and left without signing up. The 2012 victory was hard fought for Neff, who has had a complicated history with the Quest.
In 2011, after leading for most of the race, Neff stalled on Eagle Summit. He dedicated his 2012 race to Geronimo, the dog who died while trying to cross the steep summit about 130 miles from the finish in Fairbanks.
Following the 2011 Quest, Neff said he would never race the Whitehorse to Fairbanks route again. Some mushers contend that running the race that direction is too difficult and that attempting to summit the mountain is too much that late in the race. Reroutes have been suggested in the past, but none have been implemented.
But Neff had a change of heart Saturday. Even though he didn't sign up for the 2013 race, he said he would. It's time to conquer the summit, he said, not only for himself, but also for Geronimo.
“It's the duty of any champion to come back,” he said. “For the sake of the race and all of the competition.”
Abbie West, of Two Rivers, got to headquarters early to sign up for her third race. One of the most cheerful and enthusiastic mushers on the trail, West, a two-time finisher who placed eighth last year, doesn't think mushers are true veterans until they run the race in both directions. This year will be her first time racing from Whitehorse to Fairbanks.
“I really look forward to claiming that status,” she said.
Last year 23 mushers left the starting line in Fairbanks. Of those, 19 finished the race, which generally sees a third of its field drop out. During even-numbered years, the race runs from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, in odd numbered years it runs the opposite direction.
Mushers have until Jan. 4 to sign-up for the Yukon Quest, which is scheduled to start Feb. 2 in downtown Whitehorse. Here's the full list of those who signed up Saturday.
2. Dyan Bergen, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
3. Abbie West, Two Rivers, Alaska
4. Codie Strathe, Fairbanks, Alaska
5. Lance Mackey, Fairbanks, Alaska
6. Dan Kaduce, Chatanika, Alaska
7. Dave Dalton, Healy, Alaska
8. Misha Pedersen, Willow, Alaska
9. Christina Traverse, Fort McMurray, Alberta
10. Randy McKenzie, Fort McMurray, Alberta
11. Brian Wilmshurst; Dawson City, Yukon
13. Allen Moore, Two Rivers, Alaska
Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com