The 45th Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race, as it happened
A little over 26 hours after it all started on March 6, the 45th Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race was all over for another year when Red Lantern Award winner Krys March reached the finish line in Dawson City.
It was the first time March and her team of Siberian huskies have run the Percy, though she has run the Percy Junior in both 2015 and 2016.
March’s finish marked the end of the Percy for another year, although the race for victory was over at 4:12 a.m. on March 7 when Connor McMahon crossed the finish line first to win.
The real story of the race, though, is everything that happened in between the 10 a.m. start on March 6 and when March reached the finish at 12:34 p.m. on March 7.
Leg #1 – Dawson City to Forty Mile
The first half of the race saw mushers start on the Top of the World Highway before turning onto Clinton Creek Road and heading to the race’s only checkpoint in Forty Mile.
Nathaniel Hamlyn was the first musher to “follow Percy” down the trail, leaving just after 10 a.m.
Hamlyn was followed out in order by Marcelle Fressineau, Aiyana O’Shaughnessy, McMahon, Paul Hamlyn, Kyla Boivin, Jonathan Lucas, Jason Biasetti, Jess Sears and March.
March had drawn bib #4 and was scheduled to leave between Fressineau and O’Shaughnessy, but did not hit the trail until after Sears had left the start.
Featuring 700 metres of climbing in the first 10 kilometres of trail, the initial portion of the race was as challenging as it was beautiful.
Before the start, Nathaniel said he was happy to start the race with a big climb.
“I like going out on a hill – (to) keep reserve in the tank for later – so normally I’m on the drag mat anyways,” Nathaniel said. “I don’t mind climbing out.”
McMahon said the trail was “amazing” and added that the sunshine had made it “maybe a little sticky” before adding that he too enjoyed the scenery.
McMahon was the first musher to reached the checkpoint, pulling in at 4:22 p.m. on March 6. Behind him, Nathaniel arrived at 4:23 p.m.
“So the first run, I was with Connor the whole time and it was just incredible,” Nathaniel said. “Running solo is fun, but it’s also fun to run with somebody. And it doesn’t always happen, especially in a race, so that was nice.”
Things stayed busy for checkpoint volunteers as O’Shaughnessy arrived at 4:26 p.m., Biassetti arrived at 4:28 p.m., Lucas arrived at 4:54 p.m., Fressineau arrived at 5 p.m., Paul arrived at 5:10 p.m., Sears arrived at 5:17 p.m. and March arrived at 7:26 p.m.
Boivin was the only musher to scratch from the race, doing so before the first checkpoint.
Leg #2 – Forty Mile to Dawson City
Once in Forty Mile, teams were required to stay for a six-hour layover plus whatever time was necessary to offset the start differences – and that meant the order out was not the same as the order in.
Biasetti, who has won the Percy the three previous occasions it has been held, was the first out when he and his team left the checkpoint at 10:31 p.m. with a dog in his bag.
Behind him, McMahon left at 10:33 p.m., O’Shaughnessy left at 10:39 p.m., Nathaniel left at 10:43 p.m., and Lucas left at 10:59 p.m.
That meant that the first five mushers were all still within 30 minutes of each other with essentially half the race to go.
Moreover, the rest of the field was not much further behind.
Sears and her team left the checkpoint at 11:17 p.m. Paul left next at 11:19 pm.
Fressineau had been eligible to leave at 11:18 p.m., but opted for an extra few minutes of rest and left at 11:45 p.m.
March left the checkpoint at 4:50 a.m., opting to take an extra three hours in Forty Mile.
Finish order and run times
All told, the top eight in this race finished within two hours of each other, with the top four finishing less than an hour after the winner.
|Place||Name||Time In||Total Run Time|
|1||Connor McMahon||4:12 a.m.||11 hours, 47 minutes|
|2||Aiyana O’Shaughnessy||4:25 a.m.||12 hours|
|3||Nathaniel Hamlyn||4:31 a.m.||12 hours, six minutes|
|4||Jason Biasetti||4:58 a.m.||12 hours, 33 minutes|
|5||Jess Sears||5:19 a.m.||12 hours, 54 minutes|
|6||Jonathan Lucas||5:27 a.m.||13 hours, two minutes|
|7||Paul Hamlyn||5:34 a.m.||13 hours, nine minutes|
|8||Marcelle Fressineau||6:10 a.m.||13 hours, 45 minutes|
|9||Krys March||12:34 p.m.||17 hours, five minutes|
McMahon said after the race he had passed Biasetti for the lead within an hour of leaving the checkpoint, and that he tried to treat it like any other run.
“I just went into the mentality that I’m just going out on a run with my dogs,” McMahon said. “We’re having fun going down the river and we’re going to go to Dawson.”
He said the northern lights even made an appearance.
“There was a spectacular northern lights show,” McMahon said. “I got out there by myself and then the northern lights came out and it was just perfect.”
With such tight spacing between the teams, McMahon wasn’t taking anything for granted. Asked when he thought winning was a possibility, he said, “When I saw the lights of Dawson and could see the finish line.”
Second place went to O’Shaughnessy, who was competing in the longest race of her burgeoning career.
“I’ve done one smaller race, but (this was) my first camping race,” O’Shaughnessy said in the dogyard post-race. “It was a lot of fun.”
She said things were similar to what she’d been expecting.
“I was really nervous last night and today that all went away – and I kind of thought that might happen,” O’Shaughnessy said. “It was like a long training run, as some people would explain it.”
O’Shaughnessy sighed before adding, “It was so nice.”
Running dogs from Tagish Lake Kennel, owned and operated by Michelle Phillips and Ed Hopkins, O’Shaughnessy said her team was excellent.
“The team did great and I feel very lucky to have run with these guys,” she said. “I know a few of them from when they were yearlings, so it’s been kind of almost special that I got to run them in a race as well.”
She said Cleo led the whole race, with other dogs joining her for stretches.
“Cleo, who’s kind of a shyer girl, she was a leader the whole way through,” O’Shaughnessy said. “She’s super awesome. She was just sitting, watching the trail, as we camped. It was so sweet.”
O’Shaughnessy was also making her first trip to Dawson City. She said the night run on the river stood out, but the views on the first leg also could not be ignored.
“This is my first time up in Dawson and the Top of the World Highway was really beautiful at that time of day.”
In third spot was Nathaniel, who’d been in the mix with Biasetti, McMahon and O’Shaughnessy on the first day, but because of the start interval, was restarting in fourth.
“I kind of expected to pass Jason (Biasetti); unfortunately he had to bag a dog out of Forty Mile,” Nathaniel said. “And then these other two, at first I tried to catch them, and then I’m like, ‘Screw it, I can’t.’ I just went my own pace and didn’t try to push (the dogs) because at the end of the day I wanted to have a nice team at the end.”
Catching up to O’Shaughnessy or even McMahon was perhaps academically possible, sure, but he reiterated he didn’t want to push his team to the brink.
“I didn’t want to totally use all the reserves. So I wasn’t that far behind, but it would have taken quite a bit out of them to actually try and catch up,” he said.
The Percy wrapped up with an awards ceremony of sorts on March 7 for mushers and handlers, where four awards were given out.
McMahon was, unsurprisingly, presented with the Rookie Award, while O’Shaughnessy was presented the Humane Society Award.
March was presented the Red Lantern Award, as previously mentioned, and Sears was presented the Vet Care Award.