Mile 101, Steese Highway -- The race for the finish line is on after Brent Sass gave up a 10-hour lead Sunday on Allen Moore's dog team. The top two Yukon Quest mushers will layover for a mandatory eight hours after they arrive in Two Rivers, the last checkpoint on the trail.
It was early morning when Allen Moore met up with a Yukon Quest trailbreaker as he drove his team down the meandering trail on Birch Creek. "I met him head-on when I was running his morning and he said Brent had a bit of a problem and I would probably catch him because he was till walking," said Moore.
"The bottom line was the dogs were slowing way down and they needed a good break," said Brent Sass.
Sass planned to camp but he admits he also overslept. "I actually didn't set an alarm, because I didn't want to get up too early," he said. "I didn't think I'd sleep for ten hours, but I woke up at five hours and decided I should keep letting them sleep and then I thought I'd be kind of in and out and obviously I wasn't so, it got a little long."
Sass left the Circle checkpoint with a 10-hour lead on Moore. By the time the two rolled into the checkpoint in Central, that lead had shrunk to only two hours. "It's a bummer that I let him get this close again after having such a huge lead but the dogs are well rested and it's a race to the finish now," he laughed. "At least we've got a race now. I don't know if I wanted it, but I got it now," said Sass.
Allen Moore agreed. "All he has to do is just falter the least bit now, I mean the least little bit."
Moore howled with his dogs as they left Central. He had Eagle Summit on his mind. The nearly 3700-foot summit is notorious. A steep pitch and nasty weather have ended races for even the most accomplished mushers. But Moore was happy to hear the weather forecast called for light wind and a clear sky. "I hope that stays, cross your fingers. Because it can get bad up there quick," said Moore.
The weather did stay calm as Brent Sass's team came racing into the checkpoint at mile 101 on the Steese Highway. "I'm a sweaty frickin' mess," called Sass. "That was the hardest work. I had to give these guys a little budge, but they tried to kill me on the way in here," he said.
Sass said his team slowed climbing the Summit, so he had to pull them up and over himself. Then they decided to race down the hill, dragging him over gravel and ice on the way. He parked for a few hours to dry his clothes and rest his dogs. He wasn't worried about Allen Moore's team behind him. "You know, he's not moving at light speed either so I'm pretty confident that he's going to lay his stake here for a little bit and I'll bet he'll be sweaty too," said Sass.
Moore was sweaty, but he decided to blow through the checkpoint. He did take a moment to rummage through his drop bags. "I don't believe I brought any clothes," he said. "You know what that means? I'm gonna be cold. Why didn't I bring any clothes?"
In his long underwear, Brent Sass snuck out to take a look at his opponent's team while Moore was parked along the side of the trail. A few minutes later, Sass reappeared, dressed and moving quickly to prepare his dog team for the last major climb, Rosebud summit and down into Two Rivers. He took off 20 minutes behind Allen Moore.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing