KUAC FM brings daily Yukon Quest coverage on the trail from Whitehorse by KUAC’s special correspondent Emily Schwing. KUAC’s Dan Bross anchors from Fairbanks, as mushers and their dog teams approach the halfway point of the 1,000-mile race to Fairbanks, Alaska.
Reports are WEEKDAYS at 7:30 a.m., followed by updates at 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and SATURDAY & SUNDAY reports at 8:30 a.m. on KUAC 89.9 FM, From our website you can stream live or listen to online reports in the KUAC Newsroom or check out our Facebook page!
Check out what happened February 1 – 18, 2011, just click on the tabs below:
Thoughts from the Trail
Feb. 1 – Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada
This is it – I’m in town for the start of the 2011 Yukon Quest.
It was a 12 hour drive, which, of course would not have been complete without some inclement weather and few homemade brownies supplied by my new car trip buddy, Carlene Van Tol, of Palmer Alaska. Carlene is a race volunteer, who swears she’s only here for the start, but everyone knows she’ll make it out to the race course again before it all ends sometime in the next two weeks.
Our DJ and chauffeur for the trip was Alex Olesen (full disclosure: the son of KUAC’s Donor Services Coordinator, Donna Oleson). He kept us laughing and chatting for near;y the ride, except for the 30 minutes in Tok where we stopped to inhale giant Omelets at Fast Eddy’s. Alaskan mushers Allen Moore and Aliy Zirkle (incidentally, Aily was the Yukon Quest Champion in 2000) apparently had the same idea, and the same hungry feeling, and stopped in just as we were headed out for Canada.
Alex was sure our vehicle would get searched thoroughly at the border crossing. However, I assured him that no one was getting out of the car and the Canadians would welcome a rag-tag group of race volunteers and the Fairbanks press corps (The Fairbanks Daily News Miner‘s photographer John Wagner was riding in the car behind us) with no problem.
I was right, and we even got Canadian passport stamps, complete with the maple leaf and dated two days earlier. The bullet-proof-vest-clad border guard smiled sheepishly as she handed Alex our passports. “Oh, now that’s unfortunate, eh?” (Ok, maybe she didn’t say “eh,” but we’d all like to believe she thought about uttering that perfectly wonderful monosyllabic symbol for Canada!) But she brushed off her mistake by providing us with the weather report – blowing snow and high winds near Haines Junction, mixed with some rain and ice – and we were off.
The drive as beautiful as we passed the Wrangell St. Elias, the Nisling Range, along Kluane Lake and past the Kluane National Park. And the temperatures were noticeable warm when we stopped in Destruction Bay for gas. There may have even been moisture in the air – a far cry from the dry cold of interior Alaska.
By the time we pulled up to the Yukon Quest office in downtown Whitehorse, we were all ready for a nice tall glass of Yukon Red, which was, in my humble opinion, very deserving of it’s 2009 ‘Beer of the Year‘ title.
Mushers, handlers and race volunteers continue to file into town in time for the second day of vet checks and a ‘Meet the Mushers’ event tomorrow evening. Most of the commentary right now revolves around the weather. It’s currently 5 degrees Celsius in Whitehorse. Temperatures are predicted to drop about 15 degrees Celsius by Friday night. But that still means start time temperatures on Saturday could be well above what we’re used to in Fairbanks this time of year. The question is whether the Quest trail will be hard-packed and slick, or slow and mushy. And how will the dogs respond to the seeming heat wave?
So that’s the report from the trail thus far: 12 hours in a truck, safe arrival in Whitehorse, warm temperatures and a beer to finish the day.
Thoughts from the Trail
Feb. 2 – Vet Checks
About 25 people – race volunteers and veterinarians are gathered in the over-sized garages of Northerm Windows and Doors – a glass company in Whitehorse, and the location of this year’s pre-race vet checks.
All registered mushers are required to bring their dogs in for a pre-race checkup. John Overall is one of nearly twenty veterinarians who will be helping out during the race.
“It looks like the vets are just petting the dogs,” he tells me. But really, they are looking for good body condition, healthy joints and any sign of infection. They look in the dogs mouths, they check their temperatures… it really is just a check up. Mushers and their handlers lead each dog into the garage, on-by-one. They are weighed and examined and implanted with a microchip for easy identification.
One dog howls as four people – one vet and 3 volunteers – wrap their arms around him. I don’t know this dog’s name, but he seems nervous. Overell says actually most of the dogs he looks at are pretty good with people. “These dogs travel a lot,” Overell explains. The dogs are constantly having harnesses put on them and taken off again. But with all these people, a cold concrete floor and all this chaos, I think I was a little nervous too.
Overell tells me also that these dogs are very well taken care of. It’s pretty well-known mushers have a deep relationship with their teams. Sebastian Schnuelle told me today that his dogs are never chained up – in fact they sometime sleep in his cabin with him. He also introduced me to one of his dogs, Austin, a rescue dog from the Whitehorse pound, who is clearly very special to Schnuelle.
While we are talking, John Overell is called away to look over a dog that might have a little frostbite. After he returns, he tells me the situation is normal – dogs, just like people, he says are prone to frostbite when temperatures are cold and skin is exposed. While temperatures in Fairbanks were definitely frostbite worthy a few weeks ago, the weather in Whitehorse today is warm… between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius – which translates to roughly 37 degrees Farenheit.
Outside the vet check Alaskan musher, Hugh Neff was unloading his dogs from his truck. Just as he mentioned the seeming heatwave, another Alaskan musher, Allen Moore, passed by – clearly the two had both noticed the change in temperatures since their drive over from the Fairbanks area.
“Welcome to the warmth!” Neff called. “Yeah, what’s up with that?” replied Moore. The two exchanged some friendly, but competitive banter…
Neff: “Don’t worry it will change man.”
Moore: “Oh, I know.”
Neff: “Let’s hope so, or we’re gonna be takin’ lots of breaks!”
The Meet the Mushers event is tonight, as the countdown to the race start continues.
The 2011 Yukon Quest will start from Whitehorse at 11 am Yukon time (10am AKT) on Saturday, February 5th.
Listen to Yukon Quest Veterinarian, John Overell, talk about the vet checks, the dogs of the Yukon Quest and the relationship between mushers and vets on the Yukon Quest trail.
[*editors note: John Overell is the farthest north practicing veterinarian in Canada. He is described as being "the true Spirit of the North" by Yukon Quest Head Vet and close friend, Al Hallman.]
KUAC FM Reports
Yukon Quest Pre-Race Report »
Thoughts from the Trail
Feb. 4 – Let’s get this show on the…Trail!
Pre-Race jitters, warm temperatures and veterinarian checkups have kept mushers, Yukon Quest personnel and the first Canadian Ranger Patrol busy in the Yukon Territory this week.
But mostly, everyone is talking about the weather. For nearly a week, temperatures have been above freezing during the day.
“We want it to be cold… colder – I mean we can race like this but the mushers just have to be aware of the extra stresses it puts on the dogs.” says Yukon Quest Head Veterinarian, Al Hallman when asked if he was concerned.
This past week, mushers arrived in Whitehorse a little earlier to have their dogs teams looked over by the race veterinarians. In previous years, vet checks took place in both Fairbanks and Whitehorse and sometimes even at mushers’ kennels. Hallman says the mushers requested the change mostly due to concerns about the consistency of dog care along the race course.
With only a day left to prepare, I found rookie musher Dallas Seavey in the lobby of the Whitehorse Convention Center. HE said he spent the morning taking care of last minute business. Mostly, he said, he had to get some final embroidery taken care of on his jackets. He joked about supporting the local economy.
While Seavey was running errands around town, veteran musher and four-time Yukon Quest finisher, Dan Kaduce told me he was napping. He said he liked to start the race from Whitehorse, because it meant he was prepared a week early and that gave him extra time to relax.
In fact, it seems Kaduce and his fellow competitors are the only folks who aren’t worried about the forecast. Kaduce described temperatures, and trail conditions as ‘details,’ saying “We’ll see it all out there!”
When the mushers leave town on Saturday morning, they’ll head down the Yukon River. After 15 miles teams will follow the Old Dawson Overland Trail to Braeburn. It’s 100 miles from the start line to the first checkpoint. Overflow can be challenge on this section of trail but musher Brent Sass says he doesn’t worry about trail conditions.
Sass says he trains on some pretty ‘gnarly’ trails near Eureka, AK.
The Canadian half of the Yukon Quest trail is broken every year by the Canadian Rangers. Ranger Sargeant John Mitchell says aside from a blizzard that took out part of the trail near the Alaskan border early on, and some thin ice and overflow between Braeburn and Carmacks, overall, the trail is race-ready.
Seven time Yukon Quest finisher, Kelley Griffin drew the number one bib at the pre-race banquet on Thursday night. Clint Warnke of Fairbanks drew the last bib number, 25 – saying he may be the last to leave from the start line, but his won’t be the last team to cross the finish line in Fairbanks.
KUAC FM Reports
Yukon Quest Update Sat. Feb. 5 »
Thoughts from the Trail
Feb. 5 – Anticipation…
When I caught up with him on Main Street in downtown Whitehorse, Yukon Quest race manager Greg Shaffer had a lot going on Friday morning. i jumped in a truck with him and drove around Whitehorse for a bit. There was coffee in it for me, and I got my sound bytes. I hope Greg made out as well as I did!
But the real news seemed to have disappeared… Nearly every musher registered for this year’s race was nowhere to be found. b The veterans had told me they would be resting in the days before the race, so I’m not surprised. But I was on the prowl for a quote that, as a rookie reporter on this assignment, I had not thought beforehand to get.
All the mushers were missing, except, that is, for the rookie Norwegian, Johannes Rygh (Ree-gh), who I found filing some final paperwork with Yukon Quest Officials.
Rygh will be wearing bib number six as he takes off from the start chute this year. He is one of 12 mushers who will be racing the 1000 mile Yukon Quest for the first time.
Despite its reputation as one of the toughest dogsledding races in North America, Race Marshall, Hans Oettelli told me the large number of new mushers doesn’t really concern him. HE said most of the mushers are older than 40, so having some new faces around was probably good for the sport!
Kyla Durham is also new to long distance mushing this year. She’ll wear bib number 14. Earlier this week, she told me she has a rambunctious group of puppies on her team. But, she also has a plan. ( and you’ll have to click on the link below to listen to what it is!)
After pulling his bib number – 15 – at Thursday night’s start banquet, rookie Wade Marrs joked with the audience. “I hope the other mushers get lost somewhere, ” he said. Although shy and soft-spoken, Marrs of Wasilla may also have big plans for this race.
Returning mushers include Hugh Neff, who is basically a regular at the Yukon Quest. Neff will race for the 9th time and try for a seventh top-ten finish. Dan Kaduce from Chatanika is also back this year. Kaduce has run the Yukon Quest and finished in the top ten four times. Dave Dalton of Healy is the longest running musher entered in the race. He has completed the Yukon Quest 13 times with six top-ten finishes.
Four-time champion Hans Gatt, as well as rival champion and five time finisher Sebastian Schnuelle are also back to run the this year’s Yukon Quest.
On Friday afternoon, Sargeant John Mitchell said his team of Canadian rangers were still out making final improvements to the trail after a creek opened up near the mouth of the Takhini river, fewer than 10 miles from the race start.
Just before veteran Kelley Griffin, of Wasilla leaves the chute with her team wearing number one, Sargeant Mitchell says the Rangers will make one last run out of Whitehorse to check the course.
Braeburn is the first checkpoint – 100 miles down the trail. Back in 2004, Zack Steer set the record for the fastest time into this checkpoint at 10 hours and 52 minutes.
It’s anyone’s guess who will get there first.
[*Photo credit: Thank you to John Wagner of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner for getting an action shot of me, attempting to find a good photo – clearly he already outdid me on that mission – but it’s an action shot of me reporting, so yeah, thanks John! And yes, I was on the prowl for a story to file.
KUAC FM Reports
Yukon Quest Update Sun. Feb. 6 »
Feb. 6 – Ready, Set, Mush!
The 28th running of the Yukon Quest is underway. Hugh Neff was the first musher to check into the first checkpoint last night at just before 10pm. This year’s race got off to a near perfect start, with the exception of a loose lead dog. The race for the gold in Dawson will also be different this year.
Early Saturday morning, 25 mushers gathered with their teams at Shipyard Park in Downtown Whitehorse. The start for this year’s race took place roughly half a mile from the usual location, due to open water on the Yukon River.
Colder temperatures eased the minds of mushers, like Ken Anderson of Fairbanks, who was eager to leave the chute.
“I think every musher will tell you one of the nicest feelings is just leaving the starting line, … because then its all on you. It’s just you and your dogs…”
By mid-day, both dogs and fans seemed equally excited to begin the 1000 mile journey to Fairbanks.
Almost every musher left the start chute without any problems – until someone ran up to Race Marshall, Hans Oettelli, yelling about a loose dog on the trail.
One of Kyla Durham’s lead dogs had gotten loose shortly after she left the start chute, but Oetteli says it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
Marcel Brabant was a spectator. He saw the dog run free. He says he runs dogs of his own, so he just grabbed the dog, helped Durham hook it up and she was on her way.
Because the incident happened at the start line, race officials did not consider Brabant’s help outside assistance.
There is one rule that will change this year. Teams will be required to add their time differential to the mandatory four hour layover in Braeburn. This means the first musher out of the chute, will have to layover at the first checkpoint for five hours and 15 minutes. The last musher to leave Whitehorse, is only required to take the minimum four hour layover. The winner of the Dawson prize – four ounces of Klondike placer gold – will now be the musher with the fastest time, but it may not be the first team to check in at Dawson City.
Kelly Griffin also says she’s in favor of the change, but that mostly has to do with her position in this year’s race. This will be the third time she has drawn bib number one in the Yukon Quest.
Griffin was the second musher to pull into Braeburn at 10:19 pm. She started the race with only 13 dogs, 1 less than the maximum 14 dogs allowed in the Yukon Quest. One of her dogs suffered a muscle strain in a final training run back in Alaska. Griffin made the decision to run with one less dog, because she will also run the Iditarod in March.
Before digging into a bowl of chilli covered in cheese, Griffin said she had a good feeling about the next section of trail. Her plan is to run the chain of lakes before the sun comes up, so as not to overheat the dogs.
Griffin’s dogs were chasing after Hugh Neff’s team – all 14 dogs were excited to be the first to arrive as they pulled in at 9:54 pm.
Neff said the trail conditions from Whitehorse were hard but fast. HE also said he was not planning on being the first team in to Braeburn – he called it the Braeburn curse: Few team that reach the first check point, finish the race in first place.
The next section of trail is famous for a chain of lakes. It’s 77miles from Braeburn to Carmacks.
Thoughts from the Trail
Feb. 7 – Late Night Arrivals
Warm temperatures back in Whitehorse have given way to subzero chills at Pelly Crossing. The trail is hard and fast and the mushers expected to lead the pack are right up front. But while rivals Hugh Neff and Hans Gatt eye each other, everyone else is watching rookie, Wade Marrs, who checked in in 4th place.
Marrs is a rookie to the Quest trail. No one really knows a lot about the 26 year old from WAsilla. Adn he’s so soft spoken and short on words that it’s hard to learn much about him.
As Neff slept and Gatt cared for his dogs, Ken Anderson and Wade Marrs ate dinner together and chatted quietly. Anderson and Marrs jockeyed for position between McCabe Creek and Pelly crossing, before Marrs finally gave up the lead and Anderson took third place. As he pulled in, Anderson said he was surprised to be in Pelly.
Anderson said as a veteran, he didn’t offer mush advice to Marrs on the trail, because he didn’t want to offend him.
It seems the race for Dawson is on. Michelle Phillips moved through very quickly. Allan Moore said his dogs needed to keep running, but he’s also chasing the pack.
Many of the teams racing in this years’ Yukon Quest have sped through both this and the Carmacks checkpoint without stopping.
Josh Cadzow of Fort Yukon was also moving fast. When race officials asked him whether he would stay, or proceed, Cadzow asked “What time is it?” Originally he had decided to press on, but a plate full of sausage and pancakes and a nap brought him in from the 30 degrees below zero.
Although he could barely get the words out between bites, Cadzow said his dogs were still eager to run hard. Cadzow’s father, Clifton later told me he has always eaten like the dogs – he never stops to take a breath and swallows it all down in a matter of seconds
From Pelly Crossing, it’s 201 miles to the next checkpoint – Dawson city. Teams will cross the Black hills until they come to Scroggie Creek dog drop – the halfway point between Pelly and Dawson. They’ll climb the 4,002 foot Solomon’s dome and descend into Dawson city.
Thoughts from the Trail
Feb. 7 – Carmax in a flash!
Carmacks lies near the confluence of the Yukon and Nordenskiold (Norden-scold) Rivers. This is the second checkpoint on the Yukon Quest Trail and Hugh Neff was the first musher to check in. Neff ran the 77 miles between Braeburn and Carmacks in 8 hours and 13 minutes. He said his team was travelling fast – but he admitted it was maybe even a little too fast.
An hour after Neff’s quiet arrival, Ken Anderson’s team made more of an effort to announce their arrival.
Anderson’s team is coming off three mid-distance races earlier this year. He said his team hadn’t peaked yet, so he wasn’t sure what to expect, but trail conditions were in his favor.
But four-time Yukon Quest champion, Hans Gatt had a run to Carmacks that was far different. He’d had a sick dog in his basket since just outside Braeburn, and he said he felt like he’d been dragged by a snow machine from the start. HE laughed but he said he was pretty beat up from being thrown around by his “wild” team of dogs.
Brent Sass blew through Carmacks after spending most of the afternoon camped between checkpoints. I caught him in the midst of dropping a dog, searching through drop bags and signing veterinarian records.
Suddenly there was a frenzy out near the dog yard… In fact, I would describe it as chaos. Late Sunday afternoon as Sass was checking out. Hans Gatt took off down the trail directly behind Sass, and Allen Moore didn’t waste any time checking in and out and then chasing after the pack.
While teams were speeding by, I stood in the middle with my microphone hoping not to get run over.
Nearly every musher that passed through Carmacks checkpoint left at least one dog behind. Race veterinarians said they weren’t surprised due to the hard and fast trail conditions. Rookie Wade Mars dropped three dogs in Carmacks. But, he said leaving with 11 dogs didn’t change his race.
While Hugh Neff continued his run towards the McCabe Creek dog drop, teams continued to file in at Carmacks. At ten minutes after 7 pm, 36 year old rookie, Denis Tremblay of Quebec pulled into the checkpoint and scratched from the race. According to race officials, Tremblay’s team had acquired a virus. Tremblay was unavailable for comment.
As the race continued through the night, teams stopped in for coffee and cinnamon rolls at the McCabe Creek Dog Drop. But Hugh Neff didn’t stay long, if he stopped at all.
Neff’s team came running at a quick clip into the Pelly Crossing checkpoint at 12:42 am Monday (this) morning. Although covered with a thick layer of frost, Neff seemed pleased with the results of his nearly non-stop 73 mile push into the third checkpoint along the Yukon Quest Trail.
In keeping with the competition, Hans Gatt came in almost exactly an hour after Neff, followed by Ken Anderson, Wade Marrs and Brent Sass.
To be quite honest, I barely remeber this checkpoint. Teams blew through so fast, that I had to as well. There’s more to come from Pelly Crossing.
Thoughts from the Trail
Feb. 8 – On the SPOT
The Yukon Quest trail between Pelly Crossing is the most remote along the Yukon Quest trail. Usually mushers will break it up into 3 shorter runs. Lance Mackey was well known for running this section of trail in 2 longer runs. Hugh Neff is familiar with the Mackey method – he ran this section of trail in the opposite direction with Mackey last year.
At 201 miles, the section of trail between Pelly Crossing a d Dawson City is the longest single run along in the race. Mike Ellis says when mushers head out for this lonely run, it doesn’t hurt to lighten the load.
Because of the difficult trail ahead, mushers try to decrease the amount of gear they carry with them.
But there is one item that travels along with all teams, at all times. This is the second year in a row mushers will carry Spot Satellite GPS Messengers – SPOT Trackers – on their sleds. Veteran musher, Kelley Griffin says she generally supports the idea.
There are no official rules regarding the SPOT trackers, but race officials welcome their use mostly due to concerns about safety along isolated and inaccessible sections of trail. However, the emergency rescue function on the each of the mushers’ units has been disabled.
Avid followers of the Yukon Quest might have heard some “trail lore,” about mushers in the past who reportedly turned their SPOT trackers off, or chucked them in the woods as part of their race strategy.
But race officials say this could just be mere speculation.
This is Dave Dalton’s 21st run of the Yukon Quest. He says he doesn’t give his SPOT much thought when he’s out on the trail.
He says if he was spending time worrying about his tracker and where other mushers might be on the Quest trail, he wouldn’t be taking proper care of his dogs. He called it a “waste of precious time,” to worry about anything else besides resting, hydrating and excellent dog care.
Mushing isn’t necessarily a high profile sport. It’s expensive, requires remote and dangerous travel and doesn’t share in the popularity of other winter sports. In the Pelly Crossing dog yard, I found Dallas Seevey packing his sled and strapping a bale of straw to the top. A rookie to the Yukon Quest, Seevey says mushing is likely benefitted by b the use of SPOT trackers.
Jodie Bailey pulled into the Pelly Crossing and immediately started snacking her dogs. When I caught up with her, she was taking off their booties and giving them chunks of fatty lamb meat. Her SPOT tracker had been malfunctioning since she’d left Carmacks, but she didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she said, she relishes the alone time on the back of a sled.
Up ahead, it’s a tough and lonesome ride for the musher.. A hospitality stop lies at Stepping Stone, 35 miles from Pelly Crossing. The trail winds through the Black hills for another 64 miles to the Scroggie Creek dog drop. Dawson city lies on the other side of King Solomon’s Dome. The first to Dawson wins the Dawson prize – 4 ounces of Klondike placer gold.
Thoughts from the Trail
Feb. 8 – Puppy Love
After pushing his team hard for the first half of the Yukon Quest, Hugh Neff is first for gold in Dawson. Hans Gatt is far behind him, but he’s concerned he might have a sick team. The real athletes in this race are the dogs and it’s up to their mushers to keep them healthy. In a long distance race like this, the relationship between dogs and mushers is both unique and central to a successful race.
The dogs of the Yukon Quest are inarguably remarkable animals. But they are also deeply important to each musher in different ways. Hugh Neff credits his arrival in Dawson to his dog team.
Neff has seven 3 year old dogs in his team. He calls them “Annie’s Army.” The army is named for their mother, Annie, a 6 year old main lead dog who has finished two Yukon Quests. Neff says he knew they were special as soon as they were born.
Things can get a little emotional on the Yukon Quest trail especially when it involves the dogs. The race is grueling, and caring for up to 56 little paws can be stressful for a sleep deprived musher. I caught up with Mike Ellis who was slurping up a bowl of chicken soup between runs. He and his wife Sue were bent over a laptop looking at Facebook – someone had posted some photos of his dogs. Ellis had tears in his eyes. But they were genuine. He runs the fastest pure bred Siberian huskies in the world, and he is very proud.
Like nearly every musher, Jodi Bailey is amazed by her dogs. She told one reporter she doesn’t sleep in her sled like some mushers. Instead, she curls up with her dogs when she camps along the race course. While she was in the dog yard handing out dry kibble and fat snacks made with lamb meat, She said asking her about her relationship with her dogs is like asking a mother about her children.
Sebastian Schnuelle is often photographed snuggling up to his dogs. He says basically he’s their coach, their maid – he’s everything for them. He never chains them up and he often lets them run free.
Halfway through the race, Hans Gatt says his dogs look good and they’re happy, but that there were lots of issues on his team. The Austrian is not an overtly emotional man, but his blue eyes looked worried.
When teams pull into Dawson, they will stay for a 36 hour layover – well deserved rest after running nearly half of the Yukon Quest Trail.
Thoughts from the Trail
Feb. 9 – Tasty Bites!
The Yukon Quest Trail is long, lonely and cold. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing good to eat. Mushers have some flavorful foods to satiate their appetites on the trail.
Mushers carry everything they need in in their sled and there is very little room for anything extra. But every once in a while, a musher needs something to eat. Mike Ellis says there is one snack he can’t mush without.
Frontrunner, Hugh Neff has an odd choice of trail food.
Neff also to tells me he likes fish strips – most of the other mushers I ask say fish strips travel easy and they taste good.
And then there are foods that, if you to stop to ponder, really make sense. Considering most of the Yukon Quest takes place in subzero temperatures, ice cream seems the perfect choice for Clint Warnke who isn’t picky about the flavor.
There is one snack food among all the mushers that even I had to try to believe it was real… candied bacon! This is a delicacy that Brent Sass carries in his sled.
I actually did manage to get ahold of some candied bacon. Sass’s handler Josh Horst retrieved some from a leftover drop bag for me. (and you should listen below to hear how it tastes!)
A close friend of Sass made the bacon as well as some peanut butter graham cracker bars that sound like they are also worth tasting. Many mushers have food in their sleds that was made for them by friends and family.
Tamara Rose owns a bakery in Fairbanks. She admits bagels made it into her sled, but that she also takes advantage of the food at checkpoints.
Off trail, food associated with the Yukon Quest has an interesting story. Most of it is handmade by volunteers at each check point and at least half of it is wild game – things like caribou stew, moose sausages and king salmon.
Patty Isaac, was in charge of the kitchen at the Pelly Crossing checkpoint. This checkpoint is known for its Selkirk First Nation hospitality. Isaac and her family donated most of the food.
At times it seems this isn’t a sled dog race at all but a competition for the best cinnamon rolls. Mushers will take off from Dawson feeling well rested and certainly well fed after a 36 hour layover.
Thoughts from the Trail
Feb. 10 – Strategizing!
As mushers move into the second half of the Yukon Quests, they will travel down the Yukon River and cross the border into Alaska, where the trail is notoriously more challenging. Overflow is known to be a persistent problem and high winds and wicked climbs over American, Eagle and Rosebud Summit lie ahead. Mushers will certainly adjust their race schedules to tackle the Alaskan half of the race, but that doesn’t mean they will divulge their secrets.
The first thing anyone will tell you is never believe a musher. If ever asked about race strategy, they will invariable avoid the question or make something up.
But current frontrunner, Hugh Neff says mushers aren’t necessarily lying they’re just avoiding what they don’t know.
It’s the unknown that makes strategizing difficult.
Rookie Allen Moore says it’s the unknown that also keeps him running dogs competitively. HE enjoys the challenge that comes with the grueling race. He also trusts his dogs to work as a team to get them through hard times on the trail.
But Sebastian Schnuelle says over the years, he’s learned having too much of a race plan can hurt his performance. He says he used to have laminated race schedules, but he’s learned to be far more flexible after running eleven 1000 miles races.
Like nearly every musher I talked with, Dallas Seavey says he has a plan for almost every scenario . He says trail conditions and dog health are at the top of the list when it comes to planning competitive run/rest schedules.
Dan Kaduce has finished the Yukon Quest in the top ten all four times he has run the race. He says he never enters the race to win, but that doesn’t mean his competition shouldn’t be watching for him. He warns them that if they do mess up at the front of the pack, he will be the first one to pass them!
Successful mushers probably won’t let loose with their secrets on how to run the Yukon Quest, but the second half of this year’s race is still to come, and the plan most in tune with both trail conditions and dog care will likely decide the winner.
Thoughts from the Trail
Feb. 10 – The Weather Report
Mushers leaving Dawson are having a hard go of it. At least three teams have had to turn around shortly after departing. It doesn’t look like this race will get any easier any time soon. Making it into Eagle is the first in a series of challenges teams will face on the Alaska side, where races have often been decided in the past.
Temperatures are above zero in Eagle, but it doesn’t feel warm. The wind is blowing between 12 and 18 miles per hour and with blowing snow, it’s hard to see more than a few feet in front of you. With weather weather like this snow can drift over the trail and often times, trail markers will be frosted over, making them difficult to see.
Jodi Bailey may have fallen victim to the weather. She left Dawson only to return a few hours later after having been turned around on the trail along the Yukon River. In all, the ordeal added roughly four hours to Bailey’s race time.
There are mushers that feel prepared for the Alaskan Frontier. Dan Kaduce, of Two Rivers, says he feels like he has home field advantage. He trains in the White Mountains north of Fairbanks. He says he purposely trains on difficult trails and in challenging conditions so his dogs know what to do during a race.
Mushers are also having problems with their equipment. The brake on Sebastian Schnuelle’s sled apparently broke after he got out on to the Yukon River. He declined to comment, but a mad dash through the Dawson dog camp ensued. Schnuelle needed some special tools to fix his sled. By the time he had headed back out, the episode had cost him roughly an hour.
Hugh Neff may be one of few mushers to benefit for the weather. He was able to pass over American Summit before the wind and snow made the trail impassable. Neff says dealing with the weather is just the nature of the beast when it comes to the Yukon Quest.
Temperatures are forecasted to drop well below zero and snow will continue to accumulate as the race progresses further into Interior Alaska. Overflow will become an increasing problem and mushers still have to tackle the infamous Eagle Summit before heading into Fairbanks.
Thoughts from the Trail
Feb. 11 – American Summit Rescue!
Extreme weather has shaken up the mushers of the Yukon Quest. A blizzard stranded a champion, one musher executed a successful rescue for the second time in his mushing career and the back half of the pack has decided to remain in Dawson until weather conditions improve.
When 4-time Yukon Quest champion Hans Gatt attempted to tackle American Summit in a blinding snow storm, he knew it would be bad, but he hadn’t expected it would be as bad as it was.
Heavy winds had drifted snow over the trail. Gatt says he and his dogs were up to their necks.
Exhausted and dehydrated, Gatt retreated with his team and crawled into his sleeping bag to weather the storm. But he was soaked in sweat. When he feared he was too hypothermic to continue, Gatt pressed the “Help” button on his Spot tracker. What he didn’t know is that he had unknowingly pressed the “Reset” button instead.
Four hours after Gatt had hunkered down, a dog team appeared. Musher Brent Sass credits what happened next entirely to his dogs.
Silver, his 70 pound, 7 year-old husky was leading the team. Sass hooked Gatt’s team to the back of his sled and together the two teams headed for the 3,420 foot summit.
Despite this being a race, Sass says when he found Gatt freezing in his sleeping bag, all bets were off.
This is the second time Brent Sass has rescued someone from hairy conditions. In 2006, during the Yukon Quest 300, he picked up fellow musher who had lost his team on top of Eagle Summit.
Hans Gatt says if it weren’t for Sass and his dog team, he may not have made it through the day.
Sebastian Schnuelle checked in to Eagle shortly after the whole ordeal unfolded. He says the camaraderie among mushers is what gets them through the grueling challenges of the Yukon Quest Trail.
Roughly five hours after arriving, tired and shaken, in Eagle, Gatt was back out with his team strapping booties on their feet and hooking them to their tug lines. When he had first arrived, he wasn’t sure he would continue with the race. But Eagle is located in a remote corner of interior Alaska, which left him with little choice but to proceed.
Teams will continue on to Circle after checking out of Eagle. A number of mushers delayed their departures from Dawson as poor weather continues to impact trail conditions. Race officials say teams at the back of the pack have decided to travel along the Yukon River together as a matter of safety.
KUAC FM Reports
Yukon Quest Update Feb. 12 (8:30am) »
Thoughts from the Trail
Feb. 12 – Our Sincerest Condolences
After leaving the Eagle checkpoint on Saturday, Brent Sass ran his team for roughly 40 miles before taking a five and a half hour break at a hospitality stop – Trout Creek Cabin – in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. He left the cabin and headed for the Yukon River when his wheel dog, Taco collapsed. Sass says the dog was eating fine and he hadn’t noticed any abnormal behavior. The Eureka musher loaded the expired dog into his sled and ran the remaining 60 miles to Slaven’s Roadhouse where he notified veterinarians and race officials that the dog had expired.
Taco is the third sled dog Sass acquired since he took up mushing in 2006. This would have been his fifth Yukon Quest. Sass called Taco his “go to wheel dog.” He said he would be thinking about Taco for a long time. Sass says he will continue in this year’s race despite his loss. He says Taco “would want the team to finish so it would be foolish to stop now.”
Results from a necropsy show no fault on the part of the musher. According to the Head Veterinarian, the cause of death is inconclusive. Results of a histopathological examination will be available in two to four weeks.
KUAC FM Reports
Yukon Quest Update Feb. 13 (8:30am) »
KUAC FM Reports
Yukon Quest Final Report »