Story & photos by Dan Davidson
With a time of 18 hours and 18 minutes, Crispin Studer racked up his third first place finish at the Percy de Wolfe Memorial Mail Race.
He won it first in 2011, then skipped a year and won it again last year. More than simply improving upon his fastest previous time, Studer set what race officials think is a new record for the race. For his winning time, Studer collected $3,000.
Race marshal Brent McDonald said he thought the overall field of 13 was one of the fastest ever, with the top four all under 20 hours and everyone else finishing in 28 and a half hours.
William Kleedehn was just seven minutes behind Studer, but picked up an hour penalty due to a rule infraction, so he placed third. When he dropped a dog at Forty Mile he didn’t have it tied with the proper restraint and it escaped. It was caught and he picked it up on the way back, completing the race with it in harness.
Gerry Willomitzer came in just under an hour later, but ended up in third place for a prize of $2,000.
“Percy de Wolfe,” he quipped. “The only race where you can come in third and place second.”
These awards were presented at the banquet after one of Studer’s dogs escaped its container out on the street and was brought up to the Ballroom so that it could be identified and dealt with, creating a bit of a stir (of the ‘oh, how cute’ variety) at the back of the room.
“Does this mean that Crispin gets a penalty too?” Willomitzer queried hopefully.
Kleedehn’s third place finish gave him a $1,500 prize.
Asked to answer the question “What is the most important thing to do before the race?” he replied, “To make sure that Crispin reads the rules.”
The veteran musher sold all his dogs a few years ago and has been running this year with part of Studer’s kennel, so they have run a number of races together.
“I was actually completely too lazy for every single race we went to,” Kleedehn said with a chuckle, “and I let him read all the rules.”
The race paid out down to seventh place this year, with the following mushers collecting cash prizes: Jean-Denis Britten of Dawson City came in fourth place and won $1,200; Meghan Luke of Two Rivers, Alaska placed fifth for a purse of $1,000.
“Thanks for letting us Alaskans come and run your race,” Luke said, and then coined the phrase that the race committee threatens to use in next year’s advertising.
“I think it’s the most fun a gal can have in 20 hours.
“I’ve always been a handler when I came to Dawson, so thanks. This was a good time.”
Amanda Gecas from Fairbanks came in sixth place for $750. Gecas grew up in Eagle, where she spent many years helping with this race.
“Growing up in Eagle was pretty cool,” she said, “watching this race from the time I was really little and helping the best I could till the point where I was actually useful. It was something that I always wanted to run.”
Oddly, it didn’t happen until she had moved even farther away from home, making it that much harder to do.
Joanna Jagow, also from Fairbanks, took seventh place and $650. Jagow and Gecas travelled together, after having talked themselves into it at the start of the Quest 300 this year.
The remaining mushers, in order, were Jason Biasetti, Ed Hopkins, Gustav Sakshaug, Brian Wilmshurst, Colin Morrison and Jacob Heigers, who won the Red Lantern.
Three of the Junior Percy mushers were from Whitehorse.
Gaetan Pierrard ran to Forty Mile and back in 9:48 for $135. He said that he really liked Forty Mile and wouldn’t have minded staying there longer.
Rob Wilmshurst, from Hastings, Ontario, father of local musher Brian, came second with a time of 10:14. Rob has been mushing dogs for all of two and a half weeks, having come to Dawson to visit his family here. He won $110.
“I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but I always thought sailing was the best thing in the world,” he said. “It’s peaceful, quiet – just you and your surroundings.
“Dog teaming beats that hands down. You guys are amazing. You women are the best in the world. I’ve had so much fun here in the past month that I don’t know what to say. I’ll be back.”
Melissa Schenke came third for a $90 prize.
Nathaniel Hamlyn was the Red Lantern winner with 12:07, for which he collected the lantern and $115.
The final racer, and only one to skijor the Percy Junior route was Raija Easterbrook, of Athlamere, B.C., who travelled here with her son as her handler. She ran the race in 13:12 and would have had a much faster time if she hadn’t decided to wait until the sun came up, which was longer than her eight-hour layover, before heading back to Dawson. She earned $100.
“Winning the Percy Skijor was really easy,” said the 57-year-old Easterbrook, who was the only one in that category, “but actually doing it – it was tough. The pain is temporary, but the pride will last forever.”