Brent Sass leads Iditarod to Yukon River

A man with an icy beard and parka
Brent Sass was the first musher to arrive on the Yukon River, which won him a free five-course gourmet meal. Chefs flew into Ruby to prepare the meal, but Sass declined it, saying it didn’t fit into his race schedule. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

RUBY — Brent Sass was the first musher to reach the Yukon River in the 2022 Iditarod, pulling into the village of Ruby with 13 dogs just around 6 a.m. Friday.

A few dozen people — including race officials, media and local fans — came out to watch in single-digit temperatures as the northern lights danced above the Yukon River.

The first musher to the Yukon River gets a $3,500 cash prize, plus a bottle of champagne and a gourmet meal cooked up by chefs who fly in for the occasion. But Sass declined the meal when he arrived. 

“I guess you’ll have to give it to someone else,” he said, laughing. “I’d love to stay longer, but my schedule doesn’t allow it. It’s cold, got to take advantage of it!”

A dog team going down a snowy road at night
Brent Sass arrived in Ruby early Friday. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Warmer temperatures during the daytime would be more taxing on the dogs, and Sass had already rested the team for a few hours on the trail about a dozen miles outside of Ruby, at race mile 495. They were poised to make the 50-mile run down the Yukon to Galena.

Sass said the hilly spruce forest trail that he had come in on from Cripple was in good condition.

“Best trail of the race so far, I’d say,” he said while he gathered some bottles of HEET, a cooking fuel that was reportedly in short supply at the next checkpoint.

Within five minutes, Sass and his 13 dogs were off again.

His closest competition, fellow Yukon Quest champion Hugh Neff, pulled into Ruby around 8:15 a.m. and immediately declared an eight-hour rest there. He said he ran into some trouble over the night with his dogs.

“They were sick yesterday and not eating well had the diarrhea but now they came around, thank God,” he said.

A musher
Hugh Neff arrives in Ruby around 8:15 a.m. Friday. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Neff and Sass both took their mandatory 24-hour rest at the prior checkpoint of Cripple, 70 miles back.

All teams must take that daylong break. Plus, they must make an eight-hour stop at a Yukon River checkpoint and an eight-hour stop at White Mountain, just 77 miles from the Nome finish line.

Behind Neff are Dallas Seavey, Jessie Holmes, Richie Diehl and Aaron Burmeister.

RELATED: Top Iditarod teams swap laughs and stories during long rest at remote Cripple checkpoint

A musher and dog team on a snowy street
Hugh Neff arrives in Ruby. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

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Lex Treinen covers culture, homelessness, politics and corrections for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.