The Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race didn’t start out as a race 44 years ago, but it soon became a qualifying run for the larger races. The late John Gould wrote that it “began back in 1977 as a way to honour the legendary Percy DeWolfe, who courageously carried mail by dog team, horse and boat between Dawson City, YT, and Eagle, AK, from 1910 and 1949.”
In its present form, it’s a 210 mile (338 km) run from Dawson to Eagle, Alaska, and back. If you can do that, then you can try your hand at the Yukon Quest or the Iditarod.
This year’s race will begin at 10 a.m. on March 19, in front of the Old Dawson Post Office, with the crowd asked to imagine the spirit of Percy heading off with bib #1 over his parka.
Bib #2 will carry the mail sack of special “send a letter by dog team” envelopes that are part of the event’s fundraising efforts. They will be available for purchase until a few days before the race. Other teams will follow at two-minute intervals, heading down King Street, north on Front, up onto the upper dyke trail and down to the Yukon River.
Committee president Anna Claxton said it appears the teams will be able to make the run all the way to Forty Mile and then on to Eagle. In 2019, the ice conditions were so poor past Forty Mile (basically open water) that the race had to find an alternate route to make up the distance at the last minute. That had never happened before.
There is also a Junior Percy Race, which will launch from the ice bridge this year, after three years of not being able to do so because there wasn’t one. This is named for Percy DeWolfe Junior, who often accompanied his father. It leads dog teams (and perhaps some skijor teams) down to Forty Mile and back, about half the distance of the main race.
Both sets of mushers tend to arrive back in Dawson by late Friday afternoon, about a day after they set out. This allows for overnight stops and mandatory rest stops during the race. The addition of live tracking in recent years means that fans can follow the progress of the teams and have a good idea of when to show up at the Visitor Information Centre to welcome them back. There’s a link on Percy’s website at ThePercy.com.
The committee is active with fundraising throughout the year, including catering, sponsorships and the sale of the envelopes. This will be the last year for the members of the current board of directors, all of whom will be stepping down at the group’s AGM in June. Some months back they started recruiting their replacements. Claxton, who has spent 15 years working on this race, said that part of the future planning is going well.
“There are two things that are special about the race for me,” she said reflectively. “There’s the continuation of that thread of our heritage, of the way Percy used to be, being one of the only ways that people in Dawson and along the river were connected to the outside world. Carrying that heritage thread through is pretty cool.
“I also think the Percy is a real example of how the community of Dawson can come together and make things happen, and I often think about all the different skills and talents that are involved in putting on what’s basically an international event.”
It’s too early to say how many teams will participate this year. That will have to wait until the mushers have a meeting on March 15. A number of mushers in the longer races like to use this one as a pleasant event to close out their years.
With all the teams back in Dawson on Friday, the Percy wraps up with a banquet and awards ceremony, which will once again be held on Saturday evening at the Visitor Information Centre.