Rob Cooke and his Shaytaan Siberian Huskies Sled Dog Team started training for the upcoming season the same morning that Cooke signed up for his fifth Yukon Quest.
With the temperature hovering around five degrees, two teams of 14 dogs got out with the ATV for their first run of the season Saturday.
“We’ve got a really good group of dogs at the moment,” he said. “They’re getting on in age, so I’ve only got two more years on the trail with this particular group of dogs, so I want to do as much racing as possible with them.”
Cooke was the first musher to put his name forward for the 2018 Yukon Quest, which will begin on Feb. 3 in Fairbanks, AK.
Before his fourth race last February, Cooke said he thought it might be his last. But he said he enjoyed being on the trail and knew at the finish that he’d be back again.
“It’s just the Yukon Quest,” he said. “It’s such an amazing race.”
Cooke has also signed up for the double this season, registering for the Iditarod as well.
Nineteen mushers signed up for the Yukon Quest on opening day. Among the group are nine rookies, including local Claudia Wickert.
She was feeling excited and nervous after she handed in her registration papers at the office in downtown Whitehorse on Saturday.
“I want to see if I can do it, if the dogs can do it,” she said. “I like the 300 races, so we’ll see how it feels to run 1,000 miles.”
Her team will be comprised of many of the same dogs she ran the Yukon Quest 300 with this year. Wickert finished fourth.
Nathaniel Hamlyn of Whitehorse, who was third in the Quest 300, has also registered for his first Yukon Quest.
Familiar names include two-time Quest champion Hugh Neff, of Tok, Alaska, 2017 champion Matt Hall, two-time Quest champion Allen Moore, Paige Drobny, who was the top female musher in 2017 and finished fourth overall, Ryne Olsen, who was ninth in 2017, and Kristin Knight Pace, who wrote about life on the trail for the Quest, offering inside information during this year’s race.
Notably missing from the roster is Brent Sass, who was the first musher in to Dawson City in 2017. He withdrew from the race after two dogs on his team – Caputo and Healy – collapsed on the trail outside of Central, Alaska.
In a July 17 post on his kennel’s Facebook page, Wild and Free Mushing, Sass wrote that he would be taking a break from long-distance racing this season.
“There are some big changes coming for Wild and Free and we are really excited about them. The biggest change is I will not be running any 1000 mile races this season,” it said.
Sass said he will be focusing on a shorter 300-mile race and training younger dogs for his guiding business.
Healy and Caputo, he said, “have moved on to new homes with very good friends of mine, where they are loving their new lives.”
There are 21 teams signed up for the Yukon Quest 300.
A guaranteed prize purse of US $125K was announced in late July for the finishers of the race in 2018.