The Yukon Quest was a vastly different experience in many ways, and the same old thing in a few others.
I volunteered for 3 overnight shifts at our checkpoint, as I’ve often done before. Except this year, it wasn’t a check point, it was the finish line!
The 1,000 mile Yukon Quest sled dog race is jointly organized an executed by a Canadian board in Whitehorse, and an American board out of Fairbanks. Last year the two board cut ties over a disagreement over mandatory rest periods. The Canadian board wanted to implement more rest time and the Americans wanted to leave the race the same.
So this year the board held separate events. The Alaskans had 3 shorter races, and so did the Yukon board. The races here in the Yukon started in Whitehorse, with the longest race, at only 450 miles, ending here Dawson City.
Only 6 teams entered the 450 mile race. And with us staffing the finish line, there were many volunteer tasks that we didn’t need to do. There was no campground for the teams because they didn’t have a 36 hour half way mandatory rest period. There was no counting down to their departure time. There were fewer fans. Less media coverage. And it felt like half of the family was missing without the Alaskans here.
But this time we shared our race headquarters and finish line with the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra race. That’s the race you’ve heard about where people travel by skis, fat tired bike, or just walk, from Whitehorse to Dawson City. They use the same trail as the Yukon Quest but usually head out after the dog teams. This year the Quest was a week later than normal, so the Ultra racers head out a week before hand.
The Ultra racers had really nice weather this year. It wasn’t very cold (for the Yukon). Remember a few years ago when it was so devastatingly cold they couldn’t keep snowmobiles running to even go rescue all of the racers who were in various stages of frostbite and several of the racers lost parts of their extremities? I don’t think there will be any amputations this year.
Jeff couldn’t take time off work this year, so he helped assemble the chute (the fencing associated with the finish line) and dismantle it again after the race. I was assigned 3 overnight shifts in a row (midnight until 8am) so I took 3 days off of work for sleeping.
The timing worked great! On my first overnight shift, the winner of the race came in. Michelle Phillips came in at 1:21am on Wednesday. She is a veteran musher and her experience really showed, allowing her to pull away and put a great distance between her and her competitors in the final two days.
When you are waiting for a team to come in, you can watch the internet tracking site where the team’s spot trackers update every few minutes with their location. But in anticipation, it is impossible not to go outside too early and stand there for 30 minutes for the team to arrive.
I took this video of Michelle Phillips arrival with all 12 dogs still on the line!
I was going to edit it, but decided to just post it raw. You can see the team look confused about where to go when they hit front street but they figured it out! I’m pretty sure we used to run a line of pylons up the road to prevent this. Oops!
It was dark and I only had my iPhone so my photos didn’t really look so good, so this post will be short of all the beautiful dog photos I’ve posted in previous years. Video actually looked better in the dark, so here is another video of her dogs getting their snacks at the finish line. Her dogs looked great!
Here’s Michelle thanking her team:
Thirty minutes after Michelle’s arrival, 3 of the Ultra racers arrived by foot!!
Imagine a 450 winter walk?
Our shift was relieved at 8am and I went home and only managed a couple 2 hour naps that day. I was beat!
On Wednesday night’s shift, we were down to just 2 teams still out on the trail. One had been resting for way way too long. A 10 hour rest the night before, and then without going very far, he was taking another 6 hour rest along the trail. The Quest team has a couple of people whose job it is to rescue any team in trouble, should they press their SOS button on their spot. Seeing this unusual behaviour, they didn’t wait for a request for help and they loaded up two skimmer sleds with dog crates from the Humane Society and went out on snowmobiles to check on him. They left in the afternoon and didn’t return until 5:30am, so we got to spend our shift with one of their sons who was sleeping in the checkpoint under our watch.
The rescue team returned without the team and said the musher just needed a good pep talk. He had never done a race this long and thought he could just stay awake and slam the red bulls but he crashed. His team looked great though!
Chris and I got to welcome both of the last teams into town. Here’s our little helper who woke up and hung out with us the rest of the shift. What a week for this kid! He followed along the whole race with his Dad, knew all the teams and all the volunteers. He was also a heck of a salesman and help sell some race merchandise, even in the overnight hours!
By the time the last team came in, I was going outside to wait for them purposely underdressed just to wake up! The northern lights were out, welcoming the last team in. Both nights were unexpectedly breezy for Dawson, so even though it was in the -20’s, the wind kept it feeling quite cold!
I went home, unsure of even what day it was, and crashed into a nice long sleep. It was nice the race ended before my scheduled third shift! But I kept that third day off work to catch up on some me time, and I went for a ski!
What a beautiful afternoon!
Here’s hoping the two boards for the Yukon Quest can lock themselves in a room until they compromise their differences and get our race back on. The number of teams willing to put in such a commitment to train all year, invest all the money in their team and training, and then enter these races, is quickly on the decline. It would be great to see more sponsorships for prizes that really made a financial impact.
If that doesn’t work, I think there is real opportunity here to partner races with the Ultra. We used the same start and finish lines, the same trail, and the same check points. Why not cooperate more with race logistics? It would be a win-win for everyone!