The Interior of Alaskan Life 6:The Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race

Yukon Quest map courtesy of the National Park Service

The Yukon Quest (YQ) is a 1000 mile (1600km) dogsled race between Whitehorse, Yukon Territory and Fairbanks, Alaska that had its first run in 1984 and starts in Whitehorse in odd years, Fairbanks in even years. The competitors in this race are amongst the toughest in the world enduring frigid temperatures down to minus 40 F/C at times, gale force winds, and snowy white-outs. The mushers that stand on the sleds pulled by these athletes are pretty tough as well. It’s not necessarily about winning or glory for these mushers, it’s about not being in town and seeing the vast, quiet landscapes. Locals on both sides of the border eagerly watch, mostly via internet because the race is so remote, like some may watch the Tour de France or even Indy 500. Though the competition is fierce, the YQ is also a story of sportsmanship and camaraderie.

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dog mushing in Alaska

The winning time was a new record YQ at 8 days 8 hours 27 minutes. Congratulations to Allen Moore, a 55 y.o. Fairbanks resident. Remember that this race got its start in 1984?  Well Sonny Linder won in that year taking just over 12 days to finish.  Though this years race was 50 miles shorter the time improvements over the years are phenomenal.  Second this year was 2012 YQ champion,  45 y.o. Hugh Neff who has run the 1000 mile race 13 times, nine of those with lead dog “Walter” who retires this year.

2013 Yukon Quest Allen Moore winner courtesy of Fairbanks Daily News Minor

You may be wondering why you have not heard of the YQ.  At breakfast this morning some other volunteers and I pondered this very question.  The YQ purse is much smaller than in the more known Iditarod. The first prize in the 2013 YQ was $18,930 versus a first prize that can be as much as $100,000 plus a new pickup truck in the Iditarod. Another big reason is that the YQ is much harder. There only 9 checkpoints not including the start and finish on the YQ which puts large distances between food drops and supplies.  The Iditarod is more civilized with checkpoints every 25-50 miles. For these reasons the YQ has seen no more than 41 entries in any year while the Iditarod has seen nearly 100 entries. The Iditarod is more of an Anchorage, South central Alaska thing. It does not have a huge following here in Fairbanks. People in Fairbanks generally feel “they” (Anchoroids) can have it.  However, I assure you Brent Sass will be watched by Fairbanksans as he makes his try this year (look for that post in a few weeks).

Yukon Quest dog mushers

The YQ is staffed, with the exception of five paid employees, by volunteers. Support comes from generous donations by local sponsors. This morning in Fairbanks local volunteers got up between 4 and 6 am to come and meet winning musher Allen Moore at the finish line. We volunteers were plenty but onlookers were pretty limited to media, musher family, and a few friends.  The volunteers involved for the entire 9 day race duration were looking pretty weary and mostly responded to conversation with smiles and light grunting noises.

The Yukon Quest finish line

Though I mentioned the Tour de France and Indy 500, the YQ is not that kind of race.  This morning, the top two finishers came in 1 hour 15 minutes apart.  The next musher, Brent Sass, cam in nearly 10 hours later. The above is what it looks like at the finish in between racers.The Yukon Quest finish line podium

2013 Yukon Quest Jake Berkowitz courtesy of Sam Harrel/ Fairbanks Daily News Minor

Brent Sass, on the right, placed third followed just over an hour later by Jake Berkowitz. There is a bit of a story here. A few days ago these two racers were battling for third place as they went over 12 Mile Summit. The summit is a formidable climb after a 900 mile mush. Jake’s team was tired and decided to take an an unannounced break shy of the top. Brent caught up and passed Jake there. As Brent passed Jake, Jake smiled and said “It’s 12 Mile (what are you gonna do?)”. Brent went on by but at the top he stopped, dug in his ice hook, and started walking back towards Jake and his team. Though the weather was about as good as could be up there and Jake could have eeked his team over the top with some time, Brent grabbed Jake’s lead dogs and led them to the top as Jake kicked from his sled. Sportsmanship and camaraderie?  I think so. Watch the video that went wild yesterday on Facebook here in Fairbanks and YouTube everywhere.

2013 Yukon Quest Brent Sass courtesy of Sam Harrel/ Fairbanks Daily News Minor

Here is the local hero, Brent Sass and his healthy, spry team loping across the finish line. Most of the finishing huskies get snacked (it’s a verb here) with a chunk of frozen salmon or a gob of fat.  Brent’s dogs all got a juicy, raw steak. His leaders were given two each.

With the top five mushers in already I am not sure how much coverage the rest will receive.  You can keep up with the remaining 15 still on the trail at this link. The “live tracking” feature is pretty neat.

Look for a post in the coming weeks from a musher who actually ran the Quest this year. I’ll be back in February 2014 to share the start of the Yukon Quest  with you here in Fairbanks.

Enjoy!

Thanks for having a look at The Interior of Alaskan Life.

To read more about this years Yukon Quest see our local paper or see the Yukon Quest website. You can also contribute there as every little bit helps make the Quest happen.

At the time of writing:

Local temperature: 18F/-8C

Sunrise/Sunset: 9:02 AM/ 5:01 PM

Total day length: 8h 7m 49s

Today we gained 6m 49s over yesterday.  Compare this to my story from early December.

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Visit our website for more details about tours to Alaska.

16 thoughts on “The Interior of Alaskan Life 6:The Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race

  1. Thanks for sharing this (very frozen!) slice of Alaskan life! I was just watching the Westminster dog show last night, admiring the Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies and especially the Samoyeds. I think they are such gorgeous dogs, but it would be cruel to have one down here in Georgia! I think Alaska is much like Texas in that you all are your own special kind of people as opposed to other Americans! Reminds me of a joke my Texas hi school teacher told (which I’m sure you’ve heard) about the Texan who wanted to join the largest state after Alaska was admitted. He went to a saloon up there & asked how to become an Alaskan. They told him to drink a quart of whiskey without stopping, go shoot a polar bear & dance with an Eskimo. He guzzled the booze & left looking a bit glassy-eyed, but determined. Eight hours later when everyone was just about to give up, he dragged in, all torn up and bloody, but still standing. “All right!” he said, “Now where’s that Eskimo I’m supposed to shoot?” 🙂

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  2. I’ve lived up here all my life and haven’t ever been that enamoured with the dogs, but YQ is about the people you know, how hard they work, what it means to them. You did some justice with this story. Check, mate. 😉

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    • Thanks. I’m not a big dog person either. Never had any but helped a fair amount with friends over the years. It’s fun to see folks excited about it. A nice lift before March madness. Hosting Funk Roots on KUAC at 7 if you want to listen in.

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  3. I see you have some brave people over there … Not being a dog person at all/ I love horses, but since I can;t have one on my balcony, I admire them on pictures only/ but the dogs deserve a big BRAVO too! I love the last picture in the post!

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  4. Pingback: Deep Sea Fishing in Alaska (Kenai Peninsula) | ExploreDreamDiscover Talks

  5. In January, my husband & I marked off a bucket list item and visited the Yukon Territory just to see the Northern Lights. We stayed outside of Whitehorse at Takhini River Lodge and loved the entire trip – including – 40 degrees Fahreheit. Scenery is breathtaking & we would return tomorrow. Beautiful areas to live and travel in!

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