An aerial view of Michelle Phillips mushing towards the Galena checkpoint

More than two-hundred miles into this year’s Yukon Quest, race fans have already seen several lead changes. Currently Michelle Phillips holds first position as she rests in Circle, but she had to pass reigning Quest champ Brent Sass to claim that spot.

Since the Mile 101 checkpoint, Phillips was within 30 minutes of Sass, nipping at his heels over a stretch of trail that contains both the Rosebud and Eagle summits. But upon arriving into Circle City at 3:45 this morning, Phillips has about a 45-minute lead on Sass. Last year’s winner, Sass, is holding second position just barely as Cody Strathe checked into Circle three minutes behind Sass. The final musher to reach Circle as of this update is Allen Moore, bib #4 in fourth position.

The rest of the pack has descended the Eagle Summit and is en-route to Circle, except for current red lantern Olivia Webster, who also goes by Olivia Shank-Neff. The Quest rookie checked into Central just before 4am this morning.

Olivia Webster with Hugh Neff at the start of the 2019 Yukon Quest. Photo taken by Whitney McLaren (Yukon Quest 2019), used with permission.

Shank-Neff, has significant motivation to finish the Quest this year, something that has eluded her in past attempts. According to a report from KUAC radio, her grandfather Leroy Shank, one of the Yukon Quest’s founders, plans to meet her at the finish line in Whitehorse.

“He asked me to get him a passport to go to Dawson. He’s 80 years-old, 80 plus years-old, and he wants to follow the Quest. He wants this to be his last Quest.”

– Olivia Shank-Neff

To make sure she reaches the finish this year, Shank-Neff has consistently rested for seven hours in the earlier checkpoints of Mile 101 and Two Rivers, so it’s possible that could be her plan again here in Central. 

Meanwhile, Phillips and the current leaders are preparing to depart Circle for the 160-mile jaunt to Eagle, Alaska.

Image at top: Michelle Phillips mushing toward the Galena checkpoint during Iditarod. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media.