Friday, February 8, 2013

Quest fever

The race is about halfway over, but the tough part is just beginning. 

This year is the 30th running of the Yukon Quest, a 1,000-mile sled dog race from Whitehorse to Alaska. Out of 26 mushers and dog teams, three have scratched (meaning they quit the race for various reasons), one has withdrawn (she hit her help button on the spot, effectively scratching), and the rest are preparing to venture on a trail through Alaska mountains that Quest officials have called the most difficult trail --ever. 

The four front-runners have a pretty tight lead, and there is a big gap between first and last place this year, which just goes to show how fast the race is progressing each year.

The winner will probably cross the finish line in four more days and, until then, many Yukoners and Alaskans are excitedly talking about race updates, route changes, race gossip and theorizing who will win. It's a buzz and you can feel it!

Abby and I went to the start line (it switches between start and finish cities every year) and I'm pleased to say that this time, she really felt the magic. (Not as fun when she was two). It is magical to watch. I will never know what it takes to run a 1,000-mile race through some of the world's most unforgiving, dangerous terrain with a team of ten to 14 sled dogs. But it is amazing to witness.

In 2008, I followed the race trail with the newspaper in town, reporting on dog drops, checkpoint happenings and the neck-in-neck race for first. I was lured in by the race's mystique and have since been captivated by each running's unfolding drama, rescues, heroism and grit.

Dogs at the start line were so excited to get going, it took a team of handlers to hold them back.

Before the start, each team's dogs get last-minute cuddles and encouragement from mushers.
Each team leaves two minutes apart.

This team of dogs is tied to the gang line, getting ready to go and eating one last snack.
Each dog eats 12-15,000 calories a day!

 This year, the big story of the race so far is four-time Quest winner Lance Mackey's decision to scratch at Dawson City. He started the race with plans to win, but his team quickly became sick, wouldn't eat very much and had diarrhea. He dropped a number of dogs from his starting team of 14 and expressed disappointment, embarrassment and confusion. Mackey is one of the heroes of the race and has a history of taking top-notch care of his dogs.  He was hoping for a big comeback this year, but it looks like he won't live up to his hype. (Side note: his kennel is called Comeback kennels because he started racing dogs after surviving throat cancer)

I interviewed him a few times and am impressed with his vigor, attitude and care for his dogs. I hope this will be but a blip in his illustrious career.

Lance Mackey readies his team in Whitehorse before the start.
It'll be interesting to see how the race unfolds as the mushers enter a section of the race where, in past years, some mushers have almost died. it's extremely perilous and rough, separating the boys from the men. (Although there are some bad-ass lady mushers still running)
If you get a chance to check out the race it's completely thrilling!

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