Anna Claxton and the rest of the Percy DeWolfe Race Committee were hugely relieved to be able to announce that the “really hard working, amazing, dedicated trail crew” had managed to push a trail through a total of about five miles of jumble ice, and find ways around the various open leads in the river.
River conditions forced the Yukon Quest race to detour up the Fortymile and Clinton Creek Access Road to arrive in Dawson via that Top of the World Highway.
This was perhaps an option for the Percy, but it would have changed the nature of the race more than the committee liked to consider.
Opening the trail will allow the fortieth edition of the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race to follow the traditional river route down to Eagle and back to Dawson when it launches at 10 a.m. on March 24.
Of course, the very hard work by the volunteers still meant that it cost six times what it usually costs to make that trail, so the committee has come up with a late edition fundraising effort to help repair the bank balance.
The 2016 Mail Trail Club is asking that people sign up to sponsor 40 five mile chunks of the trail. To help people decide, and to make the race more interesting, the 40 sections have been given descriptions which can be found on the link at the race’s Facebook page, a paragraph describing the terrain and some snippet of historical note. Twenty-one segments take you to Eagle half-way through the race, and the remainder bring you back to Dawson.
Claxton says that interest in the race is rising more quickly now that mushers know the traditional trail will be used; however, the committee never has exact numbers until the mushers’ meeting the evening before the race. Because of the initial uncertainty about the route, the registration date of March 15 were extended to March 18.
Percy DeWolfe grew up near Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and came northwest in 1898 to find gold. He ended up being a fisherman, and then got the contract to carry the mail back and forth to Eagle in 1910. He did so until 1949, becoming known as the Iron Man of the North. He carried the mail by dog team, on horseback and by boat in all seasons.
The race is a 210 mile (338 km) round trip that takes about 24 hours to complete most years, including a mandatory six hour layover in Eagle and two additional hours at either Eagle or Fortymile.
In recent years the event has become more than just a start and finish spectator sport by the addition on spot trackers to the sleds that enable folks at either end to follow the progress of the race online.
It launches from beside Dawson’s Old Post Office, where the official mail is handed over by the Postmaster. The Ghost of Percy (bib #1) leaves at 10 a.m., just as the sun is peeking over the hill to the east of the town, and the remaining mushers leave at two minute intervals, beginning with the mail carrier, wearing bib #2.
At 3 p.m. a shorter race, the Percy Junior, departs with a mass start from the ice bridge on the Yukon River, and races to Fortymile, where the teams lay over for eight hours and return the next day.
The event concludes with a banquet on the Saturday evening. This year it will be held at the Yukon Order of Pioneers Hall.
The race manages to have a prize pot of $10,000 dollars and pays out prizes down to seventh place.
It is a qualifying race for both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, and quite a few mushers from both larger races like to enter this one as a pleasant way to finish off the racing season.