Coming Home: The 2013 Yukon Quest, Part III
“Come on, babe! Come on doggies!” Aliy Zirkle, Allenʼs wife and a former Yukon Quest Champion, called in support. Race fans cheered to the bob of Allenʼs headlamp in the distance and shouted their congratulations as he drew near.
Allen Moore isnʼt a fast talker, so it took him more than a few moments to gather his thoughts at the finish line after racing 1,000 miles in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. When he answered, it was slow and calculated, as though he were too tired to fully recover his vocabulary after speaking in dog commands for the past ten days. The first musher to round the bend in the Chena River and rush the chain link chute that funnels teams to the finish, Allen earned the title of Champion of the 30th Running of the Yukon Quest just moments before 7:00AM on Monday, February 11th.
I think – just like probably most mushers think – that I have the best lead dogs in the world.
A spectator mistakenly thought she spotted another headlamp right behind Allen, but in reality, Hugh Neff (who finished second) was more than an hour back on the trail. Aliy laughed off the temporary moment of panic. “Oh, Iʼve been there before!” Indeed, so had Allen, not so far back on the trail. At the Yukon Quest Finish Banquet in Fairbanks a few days later, he told fans about spotting the glare off of a trail marker behind him and misinterpreting it for Hughʼs headlamp. There’s no way to be sure, but his quick finish may have been due to the extra “oomph” he put behind his team over the next few hours to beat out that trail marker.
The Black Team pulled in for a swift finish, made more satisfying by the act of greatly overcoming last year’s now-infamous 26 second deficit. Hopefully Allenʼs most palpable race memory has shifted from a tough loss to the warm, snowy morning in downtown Fairbanks when he joined the esteemed ranks of past and present Yukon Quest Champions. Atop a makeshift podium he joked about the previous close finish, thanked his handlers for their hard work, and spoke approvingly of the beautiful (albeit warm) weather that blessed this yearʼs trail. Eventually, Aliy pulled him away from the media and fans to insist he get some rest.
In recapping his strategy, Allen confessed to being a student of the race. “We looked at the results from the last few years and the people that won the most had similar race plans,” Allen says. “So we stuck to those and it seemed to work. Thereʼs a reason that all those people chose that race strategy.” The planning was certainly reflected in the final standings, but also in his consistency on the trail; throughout the race, he maintained his position in first or second place at every checkpoint.
Prior to the race, Allen feared his dogs would get distracted in the final stretch, as the route from the last checkpoint in Two Rivers to the finish in downtown Fairbanks passed directly in front of their house. He and Aliy practiced the run with his team prior to the Yukon Quest, and Allen acknowledged that it turned into a home field advantage by the time he reached the finish line. Allen completed the race with a team of eleven dogs (also his lucky bib number) after dropping one in Carmacks and two in Dawson City. “I think—just like probably most mushers think—that I have the best lead dogs in the world,” Allen says. One of his lead dogs, Quito, will soon lead a team in the Iditarod with Aliy, just as she has for the past two years. “You canʼt ask for more than that.”
Quito was in attendance at the Finish Banquet, and received the Golden Harness Award recognizing excellence in sled dogs. Allen and Aliy led her up to the stage and fit the harness (handmade by Taiga Adventures) around her while serving her a steak dinner provided by the Carlson Center. Itʼs good to be the top dog.
The total journey for the Black Team spanned eight days, nineteen hours, and 39 minutes at an average speed of 7.7 miles per hour. Trail habits die hard, so Allen will have to work his way back to a full nightʼs rest, he expects to only sleep for about five hours at a time for the next few days despite his exhaustion. The SP Kennel handlers and Aliy will also catch up on sleep after assisting at checkpoints, picking up dropped dogs, and blogging throughout the race.
As for his dogs, he says itʼs important to run them between now and the Iditarod. The runs shouldnʼt be too tough, but the dogs also shouldnʼt be on a vacation before theyʼre expected to run another 1,000-mile race in just a few short weeks. “Weʼll probably do twenty mile runs just to keep them in shape,” Allen says. “Hugh said last year after he ran the Quest, he didnʼt run his (dogs), he just wanted to let them rest and he said that was a bad idea.”
Just like in his race strategy, Allen continues to learn from past Champions even after joining their ranks.
Photos by: Ronn Murray Photography