Busy first day for Yukon Quest mushers

The YQ350 and YQ200 kicked off Feb. 5 in Fairbanks, Alaska, and it didn’t take long before the field started to spread as teams headed to the Pleasant Valley checkpoint in Two Rivers, Alaska.

In the YQ350, it was Matt Hall reaching the initial checkpoint first, checking in at 2:41 p.m. local time. He was followed almost immediately by Cody Strathe, who checked in at 2:44 p.m., and Brent Sass at 2:48 p.m.

After a bit of shuffling at the checkpoint, it was Sass out at 2:48 p.m., Strathe out at 3 p.m., Deke Naaktgeboren out at 3:09 p.m., and Jennifer LaBar out at 3:13 p.m. in the initial grouping.

Rob Cooke reached the checkpoint at 3:39 p.m., elected to rest there and left for Mile 101 checkpoint at 7:54 p.m.

“The first run was good. I said I’d be here in five hours and we were here in just over four,” Cooke said after a cat nap at the checkpoint. “The trail was good. It was a bit soft on the river to start with, but it was good. The dogs are holding up well. There are a few dogs here (and it’s) their first time racing with me and a couple of them are a bit wondering what’s going on, but yeah, they look good.”

It was Sass who arrived first at the Mile 101 checkpoint, punching in at 2:55 a.m. on Feb. 6, with Strathe close behind at 3:07 a.m. and Naaktgeboren not far from Strathe at 3:16 a.m.

Hall reached Mile 101 at 5:08 a.m., and as of 7 a.m., LaBar, Cooke and Misha Wiljes are still on trail to the checkpoint.

Things were even tighter in the YQ200 standings at the Two Rivers checkpoint, with all 11 teams arriving between 3:15 p.m. and 4:05 p.m. on Feb. 5, with Amanda Otto first in.

Carcross’s Connor McMahon was the fourth musher in, arriving at 3:21 p.m.

Speaking about his team’s first leg, McMahon was pleased.

“It was really good, really smooth. Trail conditions were mostly awesome,” McMahon said. “Really cool getting to come up through Fairbanks there with all the fans. I wasn’t used to that; I felt important.”

His enthusiasm from the start hadn’t wavered, as McMahon looked forward to tackling Rosebud and Eagle summits.

“I was going to do a four-hour (rest) and I only waited for three and a half because I’m excited to go see what it’s looking like.”

Dan Kaduce was the first YQ200 musher into Mile 101, reaching the checkpoint at 4:14 a.m. on Feb. 6, and as of 7 a.m. it appears Otto, Dylan Robins, McMahon and Kaduce are all resting at the checkpoint.

Two Rivers checkpoint photos