February 8, 2010

Yukon Quest – 2010

Filed under: Everyday Life,Photography — Susan Stevenson @ 10:55 pm

Saturday, the Yukon Quest race started here in Fairbanks. You can read more about the race, and follow the progress of the mushers and teams at the website here: http://yukonquest.com/.

Here is information taken from Wikipedia (abridged):

The Yukon Quest 1,000-mile International Sled Dog Race, or simply Yukon Quest, is a sled dog race run every February between Fairbanks, Alaska, and Whitehorse, Yukon. Because of the harsh winter conditions, difficult trail, and the limited support that competitors are allowed, it is considered the “most difficult sled dog race in the world”, or even the “toughest race in the world”.

In the competition, first run in 1984, a dog team leader (called a musher) and a team of 6 to 14 dogs race for 10 to 20 days. The course follows the route of the historic 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, mail delivery, and transportation routes between Fairbanks, Dawson City, and Whitehorse. Mushers pack up to 250 pounds of equipment and provisions for themselves and their dogs to survive between checkpoints. They are permitted to leave dogs at checkpoints and dog drops, but not to replace them. Sleds may not be replaced (without penalty) and mushers cannot accept help from non-racers except at Dawson City, the halfway mark. Ten checkpoints and four dog drops, some more than 200 miles apart, lie along the trail. Veterinarians are present at each to ensure the health and welfare of the dogs, give advice, and provide veterinary care for dropped dogs; together with the race marshal or a race judge, they may remove a dog or team from the race for medical or other reasons.

The route runs on frozen rivers, over four mountain ranges, and through isolated northern villages. Racers cover 1,016 miles or more. Temperatures commonly drop as low as −60 °F, and winds can reach 50 miles per hour at higher elevations.

Lance Mackey is the only musher to have won the race four times. In 2007, he became the first to win both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, a feat he repeated the following year. The longest race time was in 1988, when Ty Halvorson took 20 days, 8 hours, and 29 minutes to finish. In 2000, Aliy Zirkle became the first woman to win the race, in 10 days, 22 hours, and 57 minutes. To allow participation in both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, the 2010 Yukon Quest began in Fairbanks one week earlier than usual—on February 6. Yukon Quest International, which runs the Yukon Quest sled dog race, also runs two shorter races: the Junior Quest and the Yukon Quest 300 (previously the Yukon Quest 250).

I went downtown with my friend Lori, and was hoping to get parked in time to visit the staging area and see the dogs and mushers, but with only about 25 minutes to spare before the 11am start, I opted to head right for the frozen river.  We met up with our friends Jim and Moe, and were in phone contact with Stella and Jay but couldn’t find them.

It’s a challenge to take photos at the start, as spectators along the trail crowd inward in order to see over or around the people in front of them. This causes a tight “V” to form and you literally have to step onto the trail to get photos. Even then, someone can move into your line of sight and ruin the shot. It’s quite frustrating for everyone! On the other hand, I love to people watch, and I love the people of Fairbanks and Alaska. Especially the kids; red-cheeked and giggling.

I knew ahead of time that I was only going to stay downtown until Lance Mackey (the local favorite – and the musher I’m pulling for) left the chute. He was wearing Bib #11. After he went by, Lori and I walked back to my car and drove to the Nordale Bridge boat launch to wait for the mushers to come by. That part of the river is about 18 miles from the start, so the first team didn’t show up until after 1pm.

Although I saw +15F in my car when I left the downtown area, it felt much colder when we got to North Pole.  My feet were warm downtown, but my toes were starting to get numb soon after arriving at the second location. I decided to hang in there until Lance came by again.  Because of this, I didn’t get photos of any of the mushers and teams after Lance. There are 24 teams racing this year.

On with the photos…
This was taken about 20 minutes before the race started. There was still plenty of room on the river to get a good vantage point: