Musher helps competitor's distracted team

Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2004

CIRCLE - First Eric Nicolier tried switching leaders after his team began to falter on the trail of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

Then he tried it again and again. When that didn't work, Nicolier tried to lead the team down the trail himself. But with temperatures dipping to at least 50 below zero early Monday morning, the dogs weren't having it.

In the end, Nicolier had to tie his team to that of fellow Fairbanks musher Eric Butcher to get his huskies restarted for the rest of the run to this Yukon River checkpoint.

"It's against the rules for two teams to be tied together, unless it's a life-threatening situation," said Race Marshal Mike McCowan. However, because of the bone-chilling cold, race officials ruled the situation was a matter of survival. "We're going to call it a wash."

Nicolier decided to scratch in Circle, another victim of love in the 2004 Quest. Even when the mercury dips off the chart, a canine's carnal drive can stop a team cold. For many teams, it's been fitting that this year's race started on Valentine's Day.

"I have four females in heat, like way in heat, so I was kind of stuck," said Nicolier shortly after he got to Circle at 12:42 a.m.

Nicolier had turned his team around and was trying to backtrack to a cabin he had passed when Butcher came upon him. They got Nicolier's team turned around and tried fruitlessly to get the dogs started again.

Finally, Butcher tied the two teams together by the gang lines and Nicolier's dogs started up the trail.

"It was fun to see my dogs going again with the help of Eric Butcher," Nicolier said. "That was really nice for him to wait for me."

Butcher, realizing that what they were doing was against the rules, asked Nicolier if they should continue up the trail tied together, but Nicolier was contemplating scratching anyway, so the two continued for more than an hour until Nicolier's dogs starting running on their own.

When Nicolier first got to the checkpoint, he still wanted to continue his third Quest. The Goldstream Valley musher placed 16th in 2000 and sick dogs forced him to scratch at Pelly Crossing, just short of the finish, in 2001. Nicolier changed his mind after a rest, bringing the number to eight scratches so far with more than 700 miles to go.

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