At 10 a.m. on Thursday, March 23, the spirit of Percy DeWolfe, Dawson’s Iron Man Mail Carrier, will head off from the starting line between the Old Post Office and the Palace Grand Theatre.
Two minutes later the first of the corporeal contestants in the Memorial Mail Race named after him will let the dogs, harnessed in teams of no less than six and no more than nine, rush down King Street to Front and then up onto the dyke trail and down to the river, on the first leg of the 210 mile (338 km) round trip to Eagle, Alaska and back. The rest will follow at two minute intervals, counted down by the crowd along the street.
There is a mandatory six hour layover in Eagle.
Two hours later, the contestants in the Junior Percy will head off to Forty Mile, roughly half the distance. This race is actually named after Percy DeWolfe Jr. rather than just being a junior edition of the larger race. Teams spend the night at Forty Mile and then return the next day.
Some years there is a separate skijor race that follows the same schedule.
While registration for this race actually closed on March 15, race committee member Anna Claxton ruefully admits that they never have any idea just how many teams are going to show up until the mushers’ meeting the evening before the race.
So much depends on how people are feeling about themselves and their dogs after the longer races, especially the Iditarod, which will have ended just in time for people to make a quick decision.
Claxton says the trail for both of the races is firm, though they will likely follow the east bank down past Moosehide.
The Junior Percy traditionally has a mass start off the ice bridge, and that’s not going to be possible in quite the same way this year, due to the lack of an ice bridge in the traditional location. However, the group is confident they can work something out.
At the time of this interview, they were still fund raising. They’d provided the concession at the Yukon Quest checkpoint again, with the assistance of many bakers and cooks, and a lot of help from both the Dawson City General Store and the Bonanza Market.
The Send a Letter by Dog Team program was still running. The Mail Trail Club, which allows people or groups to sponsor one or more of 24 segments of the race. There are still segments available to sponsor as of March 13.
The Dawson group are the main organizers, but another group in Eagle looks after everything at that end.
The committee has managed to raise a minimum of $10,000 for prizes, which pay out on a percentage basis from first down to seventh place.
Claxton notes that it has become more of a racers’ race over the years, as fewer people have bush teams and there are fewer working dogs.
“The race is such a great thing for Dawson,” she says, “to commemorate so many aspects of the community. So many parts of the community come together to make it happen. Then we’re remembering that history, when we were so much more isolated than we are now, and dog teams were our link with the Outside for so long.
“I think it’s kind of a neat way that the community gels together near the end of the winter.”
Race events conclude with a banquet, to be held this year in the KIAC Ballroom on Saturday, March 23.