FAIRBANKS - Bill Pinkham proposed marriage, Hugh Neff offered to pay a Native musher's entry fee and Lance Mackey nearly broke down after winning an award he's long coveted at the finish of the 25th Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
A packed house at the Yukon Convention Centre in Whitehorse, Yukon, witnessed those events and more at the Quest's finish and awards banquet Saturday night.
In addition to a $40,000 winner's check, Mackey took the Dawson Award - four ounces of Klondike placer gold. His dogs Handsome and Rev earned the Golden Harness Award.
"These are the real athletes and superstars," Mackey said before the pair donned gold harnesses and wolfed down a steak on stage. "They were the go-to guys when I needed them the most. ... Handsome's the brains and Rev's the speed."
But winning his first-ever Veterinarian's Choice Award got Mackey choked up. He finished with 11 dogs - more than anyone else - who came into checkpoints with wagging tails and left them eager to continue on.
"This means more to me than winning this damn race," said Mackey, who made history in 2007 by winning the Quest and the Iditarod in the same year. "Thank you very much."
After an elaborate dinner, all 15 finishers were given the opportunity to address the crowd. They also were presented with a huge finisher's patch, a signed Quest poster and a check for half their winnings. (The rest of the money will be paid pending drug tests on their dogs.)
Everyone was surprised by the end of 10th-place Pinkham's speech, including his girlfriend-turned-fiancee, Jodi Swanson.
"I do want to say that I want you to marry me," the 49-year-old Pinkham said.
As Pinkham went to one knee on the stage, Swanson - never before married - ran up to him for an embrace and kiss as the crowd erupted with clapping and cheers.
The once-married Pinkham said he came up with the idea while on the Quest trail.
"I just thought why wait until we're on vacation or something," said Pinkham, a three-time finisher from Glenwood Springs, Colo. "(I wanted) to share it out here after a joint effort of what we've just done together."
A few minutes later, Hugh Neff, the only musher to wear a tie, also made an enticing proposal. It was directed to Josh Cadzow, a 20-year-old Native musher from Fort Yukon who won the Quest 300 and caught all the 1,000-mile Quest mushers at Circle despite starting out five hours after them back in Fairbanks.
"To see a Native kid basically kick our butts was such a highlight for me," said Neff, who moved to Alaska from Chicago long ago. "I'm going to make a call to Fort Yukon and if Josh Cadzow wants to run the Quest next year, I will pay his entry fee."
Ken Anderson, the Fairbanks man who finished second to Mackey by just 15 minutes, won the Rookie of the Year Award. This was his first Quest, but he's no stranger to the Iditarod and many other races.
"They've always eluded me," Anderson said of the rookie honor. "Every time I'm a rookie some ringer shows up, so this is pretty cool."
Brent Sass of Fairbanks took home the Challenge of the North Award presented to the musher who most exemplifies the spirit of the Quest.
"He overcame a lot of obstacles," race marshal Doug Grilliot said. "He never complained. He never quit and he finished the race with great style and grace."
Kelley Griffin earned the Sportmanship Award, as selected by fellow mushers.
All she did was talk several mushers out of scratching, give Dan Kaduce food when he was in a bind, and assist Bill Cotter on multiple occasions.
"I don't know what to say except that I believe any of the other mushers out there are also as deserving of this," she said.
Kyle Boivin, as the final musher to finish - she arrived at the banquet midway through after reaching the finish line at 5:26 p.m. Saturday - was presented with the Red Lantern Award.
She's said publicly many times that she wasn't interested in winning it.
"I'd like to thank the jumble ice on the Yukon River for helping make this possible," Boivin said. "And the flu bug from the south, that really helped.
"I swore I'd never get one of these in the Quest and here I am. And I'm happy."
Juneau Empire ©2014. All Rights Reserved.