There are strange things done on the Percy run
when the mushers hit the trail.
There are tales that are told of the ice and cold
that make novice mushers quail.
But the strangest story we’ve heard of late
is the tale of Matthew McHugh,
how he stopped on the jog, just to check his dogs,
and the mirth that did ensue.
It wasn’t the first Dawson race he had run,
the Percy Junior was that.
When he caught the Red Lantern for coming last place,
t’was a feather in his hat.
He’d raced down to Fortymile, spent the night,
and happily headed back home;
and if he was last in, he’d finished the race,
which was more than could be said by some.
But running from Dawson to Eagle and back
was more than twice the race.
There were friends to be met and beer to be quaffed
and stories to hear, face to face.
And not just in Dawson did Matthew hold forth,
the Fortymile tale was the same.
And he hitched up his dogs and headed for Eagle
without much sleep to his name.
“It must have been that,” he said with a shrug
at the banquet that Saturday night.
“Twas the lack of good rest and not my intent
that made my senses take flight.
I normally know trail etiquette well, and
I follow the rules of the game,
but I was quite sure there was nobody out there
as nearer to Eagle I came.”
So he stopped for a bit, just to check on his dogs,
but the snow was so soft and so warm,
and there was no chance he’d be blocking the way
of faster teams heading back home.
So he lay on the snow with his headlamp still on
(which was lucky, he later said)
and the next thing he saw was some oncoming dogs
about to run over his head.
And here Ed Hopkins picked up the tale,
for it was Ed who happened by,
and he said what he saw there that night on the trail
was a sight to bewilder his eyes.
Now Hopkins had already been to Eagle
and was bound for Dawson again.
He was running all dark, to baffle his foes,
and watching for lights now and then.
This one in the distance was coming towards him.
and acted quite wondrous strange.
It seemed to stop and commenced to bobbing,
like walking, not like on a sleigh.
“He’s walking up to the front of his team,” thought Ed.
“That must be why he stopped.”
But then the light turned to him, back to the leaders.
“and I saw his whole body go f-l-o-p.”
On went Ed’s light for he needed to see,
quite clearly, what lay up ahead.
“And I see this red coat in the snow with a ruff,
and I think, ‘This guy’s got to be dead.'”
But he hasn’t much time to register that,
for his dogs are suddenly tangled
in the sled of McHugh, athwart the trail.
There was almost a serious mangle.
“I wake up the guy and I tell him to move,
’cause there’s two more guys on the trail,
maybe ten minutes back of me, chugging along
and they’ll run you down without fail.”
Then he loosed his dogs, caught up in the handlebars,
one over, the other below,
and he doused his light and hit the trail,
and hoped that McHugh would go.
The last chapter of this tale was left to Hans Gatt,
who eventually won the race.
He was passed by McHugh, who was Eagle bound,
with a stony look on his face.
He was full of apologies Saturday night
when he won the Red Lantern of grace,
and the moral of the story is simple, I fear:
Get your rest before the race.