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