PELLY CROSSING, Yukon — Nearly three-quarters of the way through the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest, the sled dog race to Whitehose is turning into a scramble.
Hugh Neff of Tok was the first to leave this checkpoint 750 miles into the race, even though Two Rivers musher Allen Moore arrived here first. Neff pulled out at 3:42 p.m., followed by defending champion Brent Sass at 4:06 p.m., while Moore continued to rest along with 24-year-old Matt Hall, also of Two Rivers. Moore arrived about three hours ahead of Hall and Sass and about 90 minutes ahead of Neff.
Under a glaring sun and in temperatures only a couple degrees below freezing, Moore used ski poles to help his dogs on the push up the Pelly River and into this tiny community. He arrived here at 12:53 p.m. Saturday local time.
Moore broke up the 200 miles from Dawson City into three runs: 65 miles, then 60 miles, then a 75-mile push to Pelly. He took two roughly three-hour breaks in the 34 hours, 33 minutes since leaving Dawson.
"Is this the finish line?" the two-time Quest champ joked after setting his snow hook. "Can you fix the weather?"
Locals recalled the temperature being about 50 below at this checkpoint, a quarter of the way into the 2015 race, which alternates and ran from Whitehorse to Fairbanks last year.
"It's just the opposite," Moore said while tossing frozen meat snacks to his dogs. "I don't know how you prepare for that. I guess run all night long, sleep in the day."
Moore petted his sled dogs' heads and spread out straw for them.
"Doesn't seem like you need straw, does it? Maybe you'd rather lay in the snow," he told one dog.
The team looked perky and still wanted to pull the sled when Moore had first parked. He, too, appeared alert and declined to use a sled to pull supplies to his team, opting to lug his drop bags and a bale of straw.
Moore speculated that Tok musher Hugh Neff, the 2012 champ, and defending champ Brent Sass of Eureka would only stop long enough to check in — exactly what happened.
Asked how long he planned to stay in Pelly, Moore said "it could be two, could be three, could be four," he said.
Neff was about an hour behind Moore approaching Pelly while Moore ate lasagna in the Pelly community center, planning to sleep soon.
Moore said he would much rather run the dogs in 50 below cold than in the current temperature.
"Just for the dogs' sake, although they didn't look too bad," he said. "I was surprised, running today. They did pretty well. But it's got to take its toll on them eventually. We'll try to run the longest runs, probably, more at night if you can, but you can't when you're running as much as we're running."
The warmth is the key factor in how fast the dogs can run, Moore said.
"When it's cold, they can go, go, go, but heat's just the opposite," he said.
Moore said he was happy with his position and his time into Pelly, considering where he was at in his run-rest schedule.
"I've done about the same kind of thing the last few years, and it's worked pretty well, so I haven't changed yet," Moore said. "I'm sure Brent and Hugh are going to go through here and go to McCabe (another 34 miles down the trail) or even farther. So, we'll see. Sometimes when you do these very long runs, they catch up to you in the end."