CIRCLE -- The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race and bad luck have become synonymous for Salcha musher Jack Berry the last three years.
In 2000, a moose kicked his sled when he was barely out of Fairbanks and broke two stanchions. He ran most of the race with trees lashed to his sled to keep it together and still managed to finish fifth.
Last year, after being pegged as one of the pre-race favorites based on his performance the year before, his team promptly got sick and he scratched in the first 200 miles of the race.
On Monday, Berry's hardships in the world's toughest sled dog race continued when he broke a sled runner going over a bump about 25 miles out of Circle en route to Eagle. He was forced to retreat to the checkpoint to get a new sled.
"I'm depressed," Berry said Tuesday after arriving back in Circle, a tiny hamlet on the Yukon River about 250 miles into the 1,000-mile race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
Though the musher planned to continue, any hopes of running a competitive race were dashed when his sled runner cracked.
"I didn't have a chance to win, but I had a chance of being in the top 10," he said. "This took me out of it."
A sled runner is to a sled what a wheel is to a car. It's the ski-like part on the bottom that allows it to slide over the snow. One of the two runners on Berry's sled snapped in half near the back -- only some rigging held it on.
When he headed out onto the frozen Yukon River Monday night, Berry was jockeying among the front pack of racers. But on Tuesday, as he dealt with his broken runner back in Circle, those mushers were arriving at Slaven's Cabin, 60 miles down the trail toward Eagle.
There are 34 mushers on the trail vying for a first-place $30,000 check at the finish line in Whitehorse. Seven mushers had scratched as of this morning.
Berry, meanwhile, expected to be a good day behind the front-runners when he took to the trail. Instead of chasing a healthy paycheck, he will spend the next 800 miles fighting to break into the top 15 paying spots, chasing mushers he was leading just two days ago.
After arriving back in Circle around 11 a.m., Berry got dog food from mushers Bill Pinkham and Darrin Lee, who hadn't left yet. He borrowed a sled from Jo Vanranden, a musher who'd just finished the Yukon Quest 250, a qualifying race for mushers thinking about someday running the larger Quest.
Berry faces an eight-hour penalty for borrowing the sled because Yukon Quest mushers must start and finish the race with the same sled.
Vanranden's husband and handler, Will, said he's not worried about getting the sled back.
"He's going to Whitehorse; that's where we live," he said.
The three-hour wait meant Berry would lose more time, but the five-time Quest veteran already knows the Quest trail is no place for wimps, whether it be a musher or a sled.