The morning of the race we do wake up early, in order to have the breakfast in the stomach and be ready to roll towards the Start Line. As we did stay in town before the start, we are driving just a few minutes. Alex Olesen, who supervise the organization of the start, shows us our spot. He did find us an awesome parking with lots of room for the van and the trailer.
We start to get the sled on the ground, and prepare the start setup. Quickly a guy with a snow machine ask us if we want help to attach the sled to a snow machine to get some control towards the start. I do accept the help. I have a chat with the guy and he seems to know what he is doing. Virginie and Felix help me to handle the dogs. We do get them down to have a pee, we put the harness on. We decide to keep them in the box as long as we can because the energy that surrounds them will turn them crazy.
We do prepare the second sled for the quest guest (a person that pay to ride in the sled for the few first miles). Bettie (the runner), will ride in the sled as Virginie will push on the brake to keep them behind!!
The crowd start to grow. Dries Jacob, a Belgian who ran the Quest in the past is helping me. He has the Belgian flag on his jacket!!! He is helping me to put booties. Dries will help us to lead the team to the start line while Felix will keep an eye on bunny (who eats neckline).
A paper was stick on our parking spot to tell us at what time our team must be ready to move.
So we start to hook up dogs about 15 minutes before this time. All the dogs are nuts, crazy. As we progress towards the chute I can see that the crowd is huge. It is impressive. I am happy. I can see that my friends helping me have a big smile too.
Once on the chute we do have a picture with Bettie the Quest Guest the Rider. I invite Virginie to be in that picture. There is a lot of cheering, but it is impossible to recognize everybody.
Than quickly the countdown happens, here we go. A last thank you to the volunteers who did hold my sled and we are gone.
The Yukon Quest is ON!!!
The first few miles we are heavy and slow. My 14 dogs are pulling two sleds, three people, plus all that is needed to travel from Fairbanks to Mile 101. It doesn’t matter. Bettie has a big smile, Virginie too.
We are traveling on the Chena River. After a few bends the place to drop the guest comes. I cut the rope that holds the second sled. Now I am alone. Just me and my dogs. For the next mile or two there are not many spectators neither.
I start to realize that I am living my dream. I am enjoying the moment. I could be stressing about the multiple troubles that will be in my way for the next 1000 miles, but instead I just focus on the instant. Than the emotion goes out of control and I start crying. I have made so many sacrifices and already lived so many great adventures just to get to this point. Many many people have been there to help, past and present.
So that is it. The rule is to enjoy. I really would like to succeed in finishing but the most important is to try to enjoy as many mushing miles as possible.
It is easy to enjoy the Chena river. They is a good happy crowd all along the river. People are giving us water, cookies, hot dogs and even beers. They wish us good luck. And that atmosphere last as long as we are on the Chena.
We leave the river and start to move on some nice trail. Quite a good trail, not too complicated. Not too complicated but pretty soon I will experience a scary moment. I mush downhill with my heavy sled. Here comes a left corner with a tree in the way. In order to avoid the tree I lift the break. I gain some speed. But I realize now that there is another tree behind and that the trail goes right. I push on the brake but the sled goes straight towards that second tree. I hit it pretty hard and the lines that connect the sled and the gangline brakes. I understand in a heart beat that the gangline is attaches to the snow hooks that are hanging below my handler bar. The sled instantly veers sideways and flips. My brush bow is in the snow on the left side of the trail and the seat is dragging in the snow on the other side side. The snow hooks are pushing hard on the structure of my sled. I am instantly rushing through the gang-line to release all the tug-lines. Once the pressure is down, I take a snow hook and anchor it in the snow. I anchor the second hook too.
Some mushers are now coming and pass me. Paige Drobny stops and ask if I need help. At that point I think I am back in control! So I let her go. Thanks for asking.
What did break was an extension in between the gangling and the main attachment lines. So I decide to attach my carabiners to the mail attachment.
I take a breath.
Back on mushing.
Back to enjoy.
Pretty soon we are mushing close to the road system. We pass in front of pleasant valley store, where a happy crowd is cheering at us. Betty (the rider) is there too!!! We leave the ditch to go back to normal trail and pretty soon I see some mushers camping. It has been only 4 hours. My plan is to run 6 hours. I am questioning myself. Am I trying to do too much. But I calm down and decide to stick to my plan. At some point I am traveling behind Paige Drobny. We have been traveling at close speed and distance, but only to see her once in a while.
Close to 6 hours running, I am now actively looking for a camping spot. Lucky I am. I arrive into an open field. I do a loop to place myself far from the trail. It is a very comfortable spot. Tomo, a friend of mine who is photographing the Quest is there. I tell him that he is allowed to take pictures. But I want no help! Stay at some distance. I do my usual chores to take care of the dogs, feed them and check them. Tomo than decide to leave. One more task is to repair that piece of line that was destroyed three hours ago. I do have some spare peaces of lines plus the tools to create loops in the lines. I am than able to do a very clean job to repair. As I plan to rest 6 hours, I do have a couple hours for me to sleep. Here I go into my sleeping bag.