FBI agent prepares to hit trail in Yukon Quest

Posted: Friday, February 07, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Two Rivers musher Bruce Milne has been living a double life -- FBI special agent by day, dog musher by night.

For the next two weeks, he'll be able to concentrate on only one of those roles while running his third 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race between Whitehorse, Yukon, and Fairbanks.

''It's a whole different world running this thing as an amateur and having a full-time job than someone who dedicates themselves or takes the time off,'' Milne said.

Milne's one of the few mushers in this year's 23-team field who has been juggling careers with training. Rookies Alden West, a cab driver in Fairbanks, and Paul Geoffrion, a dentist in Whitehorse, also are employed year round.

Milne was working Tuesday, the day before he was to set off with his truck, dogs and handler for the drive to Whitehorse and the start of the race Sunday.

Milne is originally from Canton, Mass. He looks more like the typical musher with bushy beard and hair than an FBI agent. He not only had to prepare his dogs for the race around 60-hour work weeks, but also had to find time to spend with his wife and two daughters.

He usually trains his dogs between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., then gets up at 5:30 a.m. to drive his daughters to catch their bus.

''I'm proud of him, very proud,'' said Cora, his wife of 17 years.

Cora will stay home during the race but will have plenty to do while her husband and 14 of the family's beloved 45 dogs face the obstacles of the Quest. Cora works full-time as a certified nurse's aid for home health care. She will have help taking care of the dog kennel from daughters Candice, 11, and Cassie, 9.

Milne trains his dogs without help from a handler but will be assisted during the race by Bob Hauer, a former handler for 2000 champion Aliy Zirkle. He'll have more help in Dawson City, where fellow FBI agents from Anchorage will pitch in during the 36-hour layover.

The desire to run dogs started years ago while Milne was a Marine at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He and Cora spent seven years living in a 35.5-foot long sailboat.

''I had never been in an airplane before I became a pilot, I had never been in a sailboat before I bought one,'' Milne said. ''Pretty much everything I've done, I've had the idea and I've gone out and done it.''

After 12 years in the Marines, mostly as a helicopter pilot, he left the military and was accepted into the FBI. A couple of years later, the Milnes were up for reassignment and had their wishes fulfilled by moving to Alaska. They've stayed for nine years.

Cora was the first to start mushing. She got involved with sprint mushing -- faster-paced races generally limited to 20 to 30 miles per day. Bruce Milne started with skijoring, skiing behind one to three dogs in harness.

His first sled ride was a disaster.

Milne set out that day with a four-dog team and his daughter, Candice, riding in the basket. He was following Cora, who had a four-dog team of her own and their younger daughter, Cassie in the basket.

Milne fell off his sled. Then Cora's team pulled the snowhook free after she had stopped to catch Milne's team and the dogs escaped with Cassie in the basket.

Cassie and the dog team were found unharmed four hours later after an extensive search involving an Alaska State Troopers helicopter, mushers, snowmobilers and skiers.

''It's been downhill since then,'' Milne said. ''There's no sport that I know of that doesn't have as many disasters as long-distance mushing. The Quest is just one right after another.''

He placed 20th in his rookie year in 2000. In 2001, one of his main leaders, Sparkles, came in heat and slowed him down so much, some of the checkpoints had already closed by the time he arrived. He managed to finish but earned the red lantern, awarded for last place. It hangs on his dining room wall.

He said his goal this year is to avoid becoming the only person to win two red lanterns.

''I'm hoping that everything that happens to me will be sort of boring for the newspaper,'' Milne said.

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