John Schandelmeier, of Paxson, Alaska, became only the second musher in the 13-year history of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race to win the race twice when he crossed the finish line of the 1,600-km run Feb. 21. He also won it in 1992.
The other to do that was Charlie Boulding, also of Alaska. He won the race in 1991 and 1993.
"I feel pretty good," said Schandelmeier shortly after finishing. "I could use some sleep but I feel pretty good."
He finished the race with 11 dogs in harness, three less than he started with in Fairbanks.
"They're real good-as solid a dog team as I've ever had." His total running time was 12 days, 16 hours and 46 minutes.
Schandelmeier, Iditarod veteran Rick Mackey and Whitehorse musher Bill Stewart were neck-and-neck during the late stages of the race, but by the time the teams got to the Takhini Hot Springs north of Whitehorse, about 50 km from the finish, Schandelmeier was about an hour ahead of Mackey.
"I saw Rick an hour and a half out of Braeburn and passed him, but we ran together for about 50 miles," he said. "I didn't get away from him. I didn't make a real effort to get away from him.
"A moose crossed in front of me and the dogs took off after him" he continued. "We had plenty in reserve there. I was twisting and turning, moving away from him a little bit, and then I couldn't find any trail markers, so I turned around and went back.
"We met head on in the trail and talked about the markers. He didn't want to turn his team around so I went back."
After deciding they were on the right trail, Schandelmeier turned around again and found Mackey sitting by a fire, heating water to feed his dogs.
"I decided to go straight on by because I thought it would take him a half an hour to get going and, evidently, it did."
Mackey finished in second place, about an hour behind Schandelmeier. But he admits he never really expected to beat him.
"There was a time last night when I was faster than John and thought maybe there's a chance," Mackey said at the finish. "But he had the strength. We got on some nice road when we left Braeburn area and I was behind him but I was stopping and letting him go and then catching him again.
"Then we got into some hills-the hills that are between all these checkpoints-and I knew it was a long shot."
Mackey, who will run the Yukon Quest again next year, said he was most surprised by all the hilly terrain along the trail. He didn't train on hills.
"Now I know what I've got to do, he said. "This was just, like, come out here and see what it's all about. I made a lot of mistakes. It goes way back to training. I didn't train in the hills at all. The picking of dogs will be different. I won't bring any small-team dogs.
"I had three little 40-pounders but you need at least 60-pounders," he continued. "I'll probably have to find a few from other people. I want to have 14 good veterans."
Mackey, who has raced in 18 Iditarods, said the quest stacks up well against the big Alaskan race.
"The Quest has a tougher trail but it's got the people that make up for it," he said. "The Iditarod has gotten fast and you get absolutely no sleep. This one is more fun. It's harder work, but it's more fun."
He was also impressed with the level of dog care on the quest.
"One big thing I noticed amongst the mushers, and it takes away something as far as racing hard, is taking care of the dogs," he explained. "This is a dog-care race. This is a heck of a good race. One thing about this race is the people really are concerned about taking better care of the dogs.
"You've got a long way to go, and dog drops are a long ways apart, so you have to take better care of them."
Mackey said he was happy with his placing. He said that finishing first was really just a dream and he would have been happy with third, fourth or even fifth place.
"I did better than I expected."
1996 Yukon Quest final results
Place Musher Date Time in Dogs Prize
1. John Schandelmeier 23/2 0:47 11 $25,000
2. Rick Mackey 23/2 07:45 9 $19,000
3. Bill Stewart 23/2 15:04 9 $14,000
4. Mark May 23/2 15:33 7 $10,000
5. Frank Turner 23/2 18:07 8 7,000
6. Doug Harris 23/2 19:37 9 5,000
7. Peter Butteri 23/2 20:37 7 4,000
8. Alistair Taylor 23/2 23:43 9 3,500
9. Paddy Santucci 23/2 23:54 6 3,000
10: Jeninne Cathers 24/2 16:21 10 2,500
11. Kris Swanguarin 25/2 00.07 10 2,000
12. Dieter Zirngibl 25/2 16:38 10 1,500
13. Susan Amundsen 25/2 17:33 8 1,250
14. Dave Dalton 25/2 21:12 6 1,000
15. Alain Herscher 26/2 03:49 12 750
16. Thomas Wiget 26/2 10:08 7 --
17. Michael King 26/2 20:30 7 --
18. Stanley Njootli 27/2 09:36 8 --
Dan Turner Scratched in Dawson, Y.T.
Dieter Dolif Scratched in Eagle, Alaska
Kurt Smith Scratched in Central, Alaska