Yukon Quest: Human drama of athletic competition

February 16, 2011

Daily Post, Mushing Radio

The roller coast that best describes this year’s Yukon Quest sled dog race is coming to a close. Last night at 11:50 (AST) rookie Dallas Seavey of Willow, AK pulled into Fairbanks after a 1,000 mile-10 day odyssey that will sure go down into the history books as one of the most dramatic Quests of all time.

Followed shortly thereafter, Sebastian Schnuelle arrived in second and Ken Anderson third. As of this posting several mushers are still on the trail that is now dominated by rookies.

What appeared to be veteran Hugh Neff’s race up until this weekend, the weather and the elements crashed down on the mushers and made for race for survival in bitterly cold temperatures, frigid overflow and brutal winds. Neff held an eight hour lead heading up Eagle Summit on the American side of the race when he was bogged down by the treacherous weather in which he lost his beloved lead dog Geronimo.

This race was about heroes. Many of the mushers did what had to be done to save their brothers on this race that very few people follow outside of the mushing world. It is known as Alaska’s other dog sled race, the Iditarod. But many put the Quest as the toughest dog sled race in the world.

There are several reasons for that:

  1. It is raced in mid-February, whereas the Iditarod is raced in March. Being held in February the mushers are racing more in darkness, with the shorter winter days still present and colder temperatures.
  2. The race is landlocked and covers three mountain ranges.
  3. The Quest requires mushers to only use one sled where the Iditarod allows mushers to exchange up to three sleds. This requires mushers to use sturdier more robust sleds.
  4. The Quest only allows 14 dog teams where the Iditarod allows 16. Two dogs can make a big difference pulling up steep mountains and pulling a heavy load.
  5. The Yukon Quest covers two continents traveling a 1000 miles from Whitehorse Yukon Territory to Fairbanks, Alaska (they alternate the start each year).
  6. And most importantly the Quest only has 10 check points where the Iditarod has 26 which means much more distance between mandatory stopping points, more camping on the trail and the requirement to carry much heavier loads.

While many of the mushers, including those who had to scratch or withdraw, are scheduled for the Iditarod in just 2 1/2 weeks many are trying to get a handle just what happened this week. Some are even calling for the organizers of the Quest to re-think the trail and to look out for what is the most important element of the race:

The Dogs

Mushers will be the first to tell you that it is about the dogs first. And rightfully so. All mushers will put the care of their dogs as the first priority, not only in races but in daily training and care at the dog yard. While it is not un-heard of for dogs to die on the trail in races such as the Iditarod and the Quest it is rather uncommon and it is heartbreaking to the mushers.

We often spend more time with our dogs than we do our own families and with hours on the trail and 1,000s of miles in harness, the daily care of these animals is a full-time job. We often care for these dogs much better than we care for ourselves. The bond that we form with our sled dogs is unparalleled to any other relationships that we have.

Maybe changes will be made. Maybe they won’t. But one thing is certain the dogs will remain the foremost priority.

So as I sit back and reflect, even as an arm chair quarterback on this one, and read hundreds upon hundreds of posts and replies on sites like Facebook I am often brought back to what they used to say on ABC’s Wild World of Sports:

The human drama of athletic competition…

Congrats to Dallas. Great job to all of the other mushers. You all did well.

Robert Forto | Team Ineka | Alaska Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Dog Works Radio | Denver Dog Works | Daily Post


Robert Forto is a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner and the host of the popular radio shows, Mush! You Huskies and Dog Works Radio Shows

Citation: AlaskaDisptach.com, YukonQuest.com, Google Images
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About robertforto

Robert Forto is the owner of Dog Works Training Company in Alaska, a canine behaviorist, mushin' down a dream, sports nut and radio show host. Robert writes a lot about his observations in Alaska, pop culture, music, and of course dogs!

View all posts by robertforto

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