Welcome to my trip report of the 30th running of the Yukon Quest, the Toughest Race on Earth. It’s a long one so get a cup of coffee, throw another log on the fire and sit a spell. I have the honor of working at Mile 101 Checkpoint, named due to it being located at mile 101 of the Steese Highway. You can right click pictures and open them in a new tab or window for a better view. I really enjoy comments and the opportunity to get to know who is reading my blog so please feel free to leave some.
The route started in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada this year and ended in Fairbanks, Alaska. Next year it will start in Fairbanks and end in Whitehorse. There is a 36 hour mandatory layover in Dawson City, the halfway point. This is the only point in which the mushers can have help with their teams (other then veterinarian care).
This map is not quite accurate. Mile 101 is actually between Eagle Summit and Rosebud.
The very first Quest had 26 entrants, 3 of which were women. 20 finished. On this, the 30th running, there were 26 entrants, 3 of which were women, and 20 teams finished. Pretty neat huh? In the 30 years of the race, there have only been a bit over 300 people who have run it. It’s a pretty exclusive list. About a third of those entering, do not finish at all. It’s not called the toughest race on earth for nothing, although this was a pretty mild year.
The course follows the route of the historic 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, mail delivery, and transportation routes between Fairbanks, Dawson City, and Whitehorse.
The route runs on frozen rivers, over four mountain ranges, and through isolated northern villages. Racers cover 1,016 miles (1,635 km) or more. Temperatures commonly drop as low as −60 °F (−51 °C), and winds can reach 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) at higher elevations. Sonny Lindner won the inaugural race in 1984 from a field of 26 teams. The fastest run took place in 2010, when Hans Gatt finished after 9 days and 26 minutes. The 2012 competition had the closest one-two finish, as Hugh Neff beat Allen Moore by twenty-six seconds.
In 2005, Lance Mackey became the first Yukon Quest rookie to win the race, a feat that was repeated by 2011’s champion, Dallas Seavey. In 2007, Mackey 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 [her husband Allen Moore was this year’s champion], in 10 days, 22 hours, and 57 minutes.”
Here’s my trip report from last year:
In 2009, I had the honor of handling for my friend Wayne Hall.
The Spell of the Yukon
“I wanted the gold, and I sought it; I scabbled and mucked like a slave. Was it famine or scurvy – I fought it; I hurled my youth into a grave. I wanted the gold, and I got it –Came ourt with a fortune last fall, Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it, And somehow the gold isn’t all. No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)It’s the cussedest land that I know, From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it, To the deep, deathlike valleys below. Some say God was tired when He made it; Some say it’s a fine land to shun; Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it, For no land on earth – and I’m one.”
Photo by Julien Schroder
This is our starting crew. A few members had to go back during the week due to work obligations. But it was nice to have everyone there at the start.
“For all you sled dog and musher fans out there! Our film from the start of the Yukon Quest 2013 which is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary. 26 fearless mushers and their faithful dogs on a 1000 mile adventure from Canada to Alaska. We love covering this race, we hope this video goes some way to capturing the heart and soul of this event and the incredible Yukon.
Of Monsters and Men”
I got to the checkpoint on Saturday. I’m glad I didn’t attempt it on Friday because 3 of our crew who did, ended up in either the ditch or a snow drift. Once again, the DOT guys helped us out. I had brought them cookies.
Then it was time to get to work.
- Piia collects wood for some of the other cabins.
Travis hangs some lights.
Peter, our Checkpoint Manager
Drop bags are ready for mushers. These are bags previously packed and sent out by the mushers. They contain dog and people food, extra gear, parts and pieces, socks, gloves, batteries, etc. They are put in alphabetical order.
Icicles, it was a warm year.
One of our trail breakers, Kerry.
The other trail breaker Dave, Julienne our Communications Guru, and Travis, one of our yard guys.
Piia and Lucas entertain themselves
Looks like fun though I’m sure it would send me to the chiropractor!
Lukas and Piia kill some time.
“You come to get rich (damned good reason); You feel like an exile at first; You hate it like hell for a season, And then you are worse than the worst. It grips you like some kinds of sinning; It twists you from foe to a friend; It seems it’s been since the beginning; It seems it will be to the end. I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow, That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim; I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow, In crimson and gold, and grow dim,Till the moon set the pearly peeks gleaming, And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop; And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming, With the peace o’ the world piled on top.”
I love our pink hills.
Lukas, keeps the fires in all the wood stoves going as well as doing what ever else needs to be done. He is Peter’s son and has been coming to work at the checkpoint for years. He’s pretty handy to have around and a great Farkle player.
We normally have some very interesting skies at least once while there.
Julienne doubles as chainsaw mechanic.
Kevin Abnett is our normal Communications Manager. He came to help get us set up then had to go back to work. He brought his fun girl friend Ginny for us all to meet. Good luck you two. You make such a cute couple and it’s nice to have your cheerful happiness around.
“Hugh Neff arrived five minutes ahead of Allen Moore at Mile 101 and left four minutes after him.
Interview by Emily Schwing (KUAC Fairbanks)
Video by B. Dannenhauer, M. Grosch, P. Kamper and S. King”
Hugh Neff, first into the checkpoint. He only sat there about 2 minutes total and finished eating standing up on his way out the door after he saw that Allen was going on through.
Emily Schwing, Reporter for KUAC. She’s a regular here at the checkpoint. Piia updating the leaderboard.
Brent’s dad , Mark Sass. Mike Ellis and Joe Krueger (another part time yard guy).
Being a handler can be lonely business if you are doing it alone. Their job is to meet the musher when s/he comes into the checkpoint, direct them to where the straw, hot water for dog food, drop bags, and dog parking is if the checkpoint personnel doesn’t tell them. They cheer their musher on and pick up after them when they leave. All the straw has to be picked up as well as any drop bags left. They also care for any dogs the musher drops.
Brent Sass and Jake Berkowitz being interviewed, all while eating our famous bacon and eggs.
“Brent Sass lends a hand to fellow competitor, Jake Berkowitz to help get his team over the infamous Eagle Summit in the 2013 Yukon Quest.”
“A Go-Pro Camera view of Brent Sass helping Jake Berkowitz to bring Jake’s team up the final stretch of Eagle Summit. We are posting this simply for the ‘high five’. The camaraderie between mushers is rarely better shown than here.
Go-Pro footage by Kerry Barnes (Mile 101 trailbreaker).”
“Brent Sass and Jake Berkowitz arrive at Mile 101 and talk about their climb up Eagle Summit and the final miles of the race into Fairbanks.
Video by B. Dannenhauer, Michael Grosch, Peter Kamper and Sui King.”
The view out of the Comm Shack window.
We have a generator to run the lights in the cook shack, another one to run the comm shack and a final one down at the checkers’ cabin to run the lights where the incoming trail enters the area and the checker checks in the mushers. Occasionally they would run out of gas or be off while the guys performed maintenance on them. No problem though as we would just fire up the Coleman lantern. It lent a nice ambiance lol.
“Darin Lee and Cody Strathe help each other to bring their teams up the steep northern slope of Eagle Summit on their way to Checkpoint Mile 101. The weather on the summit is rarely as nice as it was on that day. The sound has been muted because of loud wind noise.yil
Video B. Dannenhauer, M. Grosch, P. Kamper, S. Kings”
One gets rest where and when one is able!
We have a sleeping cabin for the mushers but this one didn’t want to walk all the way down the hill when he really just was planning on a short nap. Besides, as he said, if he had an actual bed, he’d be out cold. These guys get very little sleep.
The bottle of “101” next to my head was completely coincidental hahah. Yes, I also have a bed in the back room but I was waiting on a musher who had just come in. They get checked in, take care of their dogs, come in and eat, then take a nap themselves. I feed them then as well as once again before they leave if they have the time. If they only get a two hour nap, so do I. The one above was 45 minutes. Any longer then that and I would have laid down in my bed.
Abbie West arrives in Mile 101, talks about Eagle Summit, her team, her hopes for next year’s race and past the last great hurdle: How to get her dogs past her kennel along the YQ trail in Fairbanks to the finish without a dog team strike.
Video by B. Dannenhauer, M.Grosch, P. Kamper and Sui Kings.
When a musher enters a checkpoint, they sign in on the clipboard. Their arrival time in entered next to their name. The Checker (Piia) supervises this as well as checks off that all mandatory gear is in the musher’s sled bag.
The following items must be presented to the checker before checking in at each checkpoint:
1. Proper cold weather sleeping bag.
2. Hand ax with an overall length of at least twenty-two (22) inches/56 centimeters.
3. One pair of snowshoes with bindings, with an area of approximately two hundred and fifty (250) square inches/1612 square centimeters each.
4. Veterinary records (loss will incur a five hundred dollar ($500) fine.) The veterinary book must be returned to a Race Judge upon completion of the race or when withdrawing for any reason.
5. Any promotional material that YQI has asked the driver to carry…
6. Functional cooker
7. Eight (8) booties for each dog, either in the sled or in use and in the sled, are required when a driver signs out of each checkpoint.
Abbie using our hammer to break the ice off of the clasps of her boots.
Bagging up straw.
Handlers, media, checker from Circle trying to catch a ride back to Fairbanks.
Waiting, waiting, waiting…
Dave, fueling up his snow machine.
Lighting the sky lanterns
Packing up to go home.
The used straw from the teams.
My friend Jodi Bailey. She got to spend some time with us while waiting for her husband Dan Kaduce to get over the summit.
We had a break in between mushers that was long enough for us to make a run up the road to the Summit and watch the next musher come over.
The Eagle Summit weather station.
This is an emergency shelter off the road up Eagle Summit. The road is often closed in the winter due to drifting across the road.
There is a musher coming over the saddle. Right click and open in a new window for a larger view.
Every year many people see hundreds of caribou that come through here. I never see more then 3 or 4 at a time. I assume by these wolf tracks that they ran off to a new area when they were being hunted. That’s a pretty big paw print. This is the same pack that Dyane Bergen talks about being chase by in her video below.
The hill side is covered with caribou tracks!
Make sure to tell Ivory Jacks thanks for sponsoring us with bacon, eggs, and halibut.
Kerry brought some veggies which I threw in a pan to fry up with some butter. Yum. Asparagus, red, yellow, orange peppers, jalapeno, onion, a lemon, a clove of garlic… After a week of no fresh veggies, this was a real treat. Next year I’ll bring some myself, a lot more though. This little panfull didn’t go far hahaha.
I buy sky lanterns by the case. We have started a tradition of lighting them off on the anniversary of Justin’s passing. I had a couple left over and I think I’ll bring some every year. I know we wont have as still of a night every year but we can try. They are beautiful as they float away, a wishing light in the sky.
We also got quite the light show!
I put my pictures together so you get a bit of a time lapse.
“Dyane Bergen reaches the finish line in Fairbanks to claim the red lantern award. 26 mushers started the 1600 km/ 1000 mile trek and 20 teams pulled through to the finish. Congratulations Dyane !
Video by B.Dannenhauer, M.Grosch, P. Kamper and S.King”
I brought my fabric glue with me so I could put my newest volunteer patch on my fiddle case before I even got it home. I can hardly wait till I have no more room! Next year will be my 5th year up there. I’m looking forward to it and trying to think of something special to do while there. Do you have any ideas? Come on, I know I have some very creative followers.
“The summer – no sweeter was ever; The sunshiny woods all athrill; The grayling aleap in the river, The bighorn asleep on the hill. The strong life that never knows harness; The wilds where the caribou call; The freshness, the freedom, the farness –O God! how I’m stuck on it all. The winter! the brightness that blinds you, the white land locked tight as a drum, The cold fear that follows and finds you, The silence that bludgeons you dumb. The snows that are older than history, The woods where the weird shadows slant; The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery, I’ve bade’em good-by – but I can’t.”
This is the final leader board. It keeps track of which musher came in when, with how many dogs, and when he left and with how many dogs he left with. Then it shows what time he reached the next checkpoint and the finish line. Of course I could not pass up a big empty spot on the dry erase board without decorating it with a bit of henna type design.
“This is the ‘live’ version of the Yukon Quest Finish Banquet including sponsor recognition, all awards and musher talk. Enjoy…, you will find a lot of stories and humor in this 2 1/2 hour audio.
PS: No, …. you don’t want the video version. It would take us a day to upload it from where we are.
Until 2014: Happy Trails from all of us at the Yukon Quest!”
“A video/slideshow of the 30th running of the Yukon Quest that captures the mushers, dogs, handlers, volunteers, sponsors, vets and directors that made it all possible.”
“There’s a land where the mountains are nameless, And the rivers all run God knows where; There are lives that are erring and aimless; And deaths that just hang by a hair; There are hardships that nobody reckons; There are valleys unpeopled and still; There’s a land – oh, it beckons and beckons, And I want to go back – and I will. They’re making my money diminish; I’m sick of the taste of champgne. Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish, I’ll pike to the Yukon again. I’ll fight – and you bet it’s no sham-fight; It’s hell! – but I’ve been there before; And it’s better than this by a damsite –So me for the Yukon once more. There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting; It’s luring me on as of old; Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting, So much as just finding the gold. It’s the great, broad land ‘way up yonder. It’s the forests where silence has lease; It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder, It’s the stillness that fills me with peace. ” R. Service
Then all of a sudden, it was over for another year. This is always a bit of a melancholy time for me. I love it so much out there and have such a good time. The lack of showers and sleep quickly fade into vague memory while the friends and camaraderie, as well as the stark, extreme wilderness remain sharp and clear.
I did see a few caribou grazing down in a valley so peacefully.
This is overflow. It occurs when the weight of the ice on top of the water grows so heavy it sinks. Liquid water then flows over the top of the ice and the top layer freezes too. Rinse, repeat. This is what mushers often have to go through on the trail. It doesn’t show very well in the picture but the ice is really a beautiful sage green.
The drive home was uneventful though I did stop and take a few pictures of the lovely sky and scenery. I take my time when I have the opportunity to “commune with nature”. I also pulled my fiddle out at a lovely little pull out. I play the best when by myself. It was too cold to play for long but it was certainly good for my soul.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it.