Warren Palfrey and all 12 of his dog braved the cold winter air, and turned the final bend before crossing the finish line to win the 12 dog event of the Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race.
Palfrey was the first musher to reach Elk Ridge, making it to the finish line at about 5:15 a.m. on Friday. Ending his successful race in the dark, he had a near eight-hour lead on the next competitor in line to finish, his son, Sam, followed by Jason Campeau of Alberta.
This is Palfrey’s first Canadian Challenge win. The Quesnel, B.C. musher has been involved in the sport for 28 years, and has taken part in the sport’s marquee event, the Iditarod.
He was pleased with his 12-dog event victory on Friday. This year, he wanted to come back to compete and ideally try to win, he said. He withdrew during last year’s race due to illness.
“I’ve got a pretty competitive dog team, I think and … training’s been really good this year at our place in B.C., and I think that’s had a lot to do with it. And obviously, you have to have a bit of luck involved as well, and I think everything kind of came together for this race,” he said.
Palfrey said he was really happy to get all of the 12 dogs he started with to the finish line, which he called one of his “mini goals.” Doing this isn’t as easy as it looks, he said.
Coming into checkpoints, he was told the dogs looked good. “It’s definitely a team management thing. There’s little tweaks and things that you can do to help make a dog team and particular dogs through a race.”
His team was one of the eight teams that started the race in Prince Albert on Tuesday. Christopher Lake’s Bart De Marie, the 2009 Canadian Challenge winner withdrew, and Megan Routley of Logan Lake, B.C. was scratched.
Linden, Alta. musher Christopher Wall won the eight-dog event and Jennifer Campeau of Okotoks, Alta. won the open event.
The conditions were almost ideal, Palfrey said, and praised the trail committee for the well-marked trail. But the weather proved to be the biggest challenge.
“It was pretty cold the last couple days here. I think it was a lot colder than what they had forecast originally when we started the race, so dealing with the cold is always an ‘x’ factor that you have to deal with and you know, things can go wrong pretty quick in the cold so, you have to really be aware of your surroundings and aware of what’s going on and make sure you don’t make any mistakes,” he said.
Although his mushing season finished with the Canadian Challenge, he will be heading to Alaska to help as a race judge at the Iditarod.
“I’ve run that race four times, and I’ve run the Yukon Quest as well. And I race judged for the Iditarod last year, it was my first time. I enjoyed it so much that I asked if they’d take me back again and they said they would.”
And he’ll be at the finish line later on Friday to watch his son cross it. Sam grew up around sled dogs – and it’s been a part of his life, his whole life. Palfrey said he was proud of his son.
“We, sort of at the last minute, almost, decided to enter another team in the race and I asked him obviously just before that … say ‘hey, you want to come out and race?’ And he said yes, so here he is.”
They put a second team together, with what Palfrey characterized as a hodgepodge of dogs. Some of Sam’s dogs have come out of retirement to race.
“He’s been doing [a] really good job. Looking forward to seeing him here at the finish.”
On Twitter: @thiajames
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