Yuka Honda - Japanese Musher
Yukon Quest 2016 Chena River Bridge, Fairbanks, AK
I didn’t have enough money, so I tried to get to Alaska with a cheap used bike. After bicycling many days from the Yukon Territories, my bike broke down. Luckily, a Healy resident, Pierre DeMers found me and picked me up in his truck. Pierre helped me to locate where I wanted to go. We passed Healy then went near Denali Park, To meet up with another musher named Jim, unfortunately we missed him. I was disappointed and had no idea what I was going to do from that point. Pierre and his wife Meggie took me to their friend, Ramy Brooks, the Yukon Quest/Iditarod musher in Healy. I had the opportunity to learn more about dogs and distance racing from him.
I spent 3 winters with Ramy’s kennel and learned how to train dogs, care for dogs, feed dogs, and prepare for racing. Through these works, I realized that it is a lot harder than it seemed. But I enjoyed it and learned it was something I really loved doing.
During those years, I participated in the Two Rivers 200, then the Serum Run. In the spring of 2005, I moved to another kennel in Healy. My dream is to run in the Yukon Quest for the first time. It finally came true in February 2006 ,the Quest teams started from Fairbanks. With racing number 10, I departed smoothly with my team of 14 dogs and a smile on my face. Everything seemed all right, but on the second day after passing 101 Dog Drop, the weather changed suddenly on Eagle Summit. In a heavy snow storm, five Quest teams, most of them rookies, including I, were missing. There was a white-out. There was no way to search for us. Five hours…ten hours…then fifteen…no teams showed up in Central at the checkpoint. People were worried. On the third day, after 17 hours had passed, all teams were found safe and they were airlifted by the Alaska National Guard. My team was on the wrong trail, we were stuck somewhere and had to spend the night covered in snow. I had stored enough energy to go back to the trail, willing to catch up with the race and continue.
I grew up in a snowy prefecture, Niigata, in north Japan. I knew how to deal with snow to survive. I wasn’t expecting to be picked up and rescued, then forced to withdraw from the race at this point. It was confusing and upsetting at the moment. I’s more than 4-year effort and determination to race was broken to soon. Her Quest was ended about 100 miles from the start in Fairbanks.
I didn’t give up. I went back to Japan. Working harder than before to make money, made money, then returned to Alaska in the fall of the same year to try again and run the race.
In February, 2007, I was still not lucky this time. In just 1½ months before the race, I had to change kennels. When I met Bill Cotter (Cotter’s Kennel) in Nenana, I had only less than one month to prepare for the race. Should I try for the race or just go back to Japan for nothing? I decided it was all or nothing, and to go for it! I ran the Yukon Quest for the second time.
It was even a harder race than the first one. On the second day, unfortunately I lost her lead dog. I was upset and crying but kept going to mush. But the rest of the dogs were distracted by female dogs in heat. The team struggled and got slower. When I and her team arrived at Dawson City in Yukon Territory, I decided to scratch from the race. As the last team on the race at that point, I had still more than 500 miles to reach the goal, Fairbanks, Alaska.
After I got back to Japan, I worked even harder and harder with three jobs. I wanted to forget what happened to her in Alaska and I wondered why it happened to her and needed to decide what I wanted to do next, or not to mush anymore, etc.
In the fall of 2007, Bill Cotter wrote an e-mail to me. “Come back, I need your help as my handler.” Bill was planning to run the Yukon Quest in 2008. I hesitated first but I came back to Alaska. As I helped Bill as a handler and saw his dogs again, I slowly recovered from her bruised past to come back to the race. I said, “I am going to run the Yukon Quest forever! I am going to win the race!!!”
Now I am back at Cotter’s kennel since the end of September 2008. No matter what obstacles may come in front o her, I Honda still loves mushing, dogs, running the race, the people of Alaska, and the spirit of Alaska winter wonderland.
(Written as of January, 2009 )
The Yukon Quest was started at Whitehorse in Canada, on Saturday, February 14, 2009.
I scrached another race again just about 100 miles to the goal in Fairbanks because of her dogs. Despite of full of her energy and sprit, despite of I walked over the Eagle Summit in front of dogs to lead the team…
Well, I never give up, you know.
After the race, I moved to Whitehouse in Yukon Territory, Canada. During the summer 2009, I build own cabin to live with three puppies of her favorite dog, Heekola (nick name: Sekai-ich –the World number one dog!) and another Sekai-ich, Kanbo. I will planning to get more dogs to make own team to try again the Yukon Quest not for next year but year 2011.
Go I, go!
I Honda deeply appreciate for your past and future support for make her dream come true!
(by I Honda and Hisako Suzuki Ito)