The Yukon Quest, which alternates starting and finishing between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon each year, is one of two 1,000-mile sled dog races in Alaska. While its more famous counterpart, the Iditarod, is better known in the Lower-48, the Yukon Quest is considered by many in the mushing community to be the more difficult contest. With fewer checkpoints and a harsher climate, only the toughest teams make it to the finish.
I covered the race's preparations and the first three days of the contest, but unfortunately the News-Miner wasn't able to send me past the Alaska border. The time I spent on the trail was unforgettable and also a true test of my journalistic abilities. The temperature, which at times reached -30 degrees, caused tape recorders to die instantly and pens to freeze. A plentiful supply of fresh batteries was helpful, but pencil and paper was the most reliable option. Camera batteries died in minutes, camera shutters would freeze shut and lenses could fog for hours. I learned a lot from the Quest's veteran photographers - keep your camera battery stashed in your pocket next to a hand warmer until right before you need it and always leave your camera outside until you're done for the day. Internet also wasn't available on the trail leaving the hunt for wifi so I could file my story and photos at the end of the day an adventure of its own.
Although the harsh Alaska climate provided challenging technical details, the mushers, dogs and volunteers on the trail made writing never feel easier. I hope you enjoy reading their stories as much as I loved writing them.
"Because the 1,000-mile Quest and the YQ300 — 300 miles along the same route — don’t allow any outside assistance, the bags contain everything the competitors and their dog teams will need to get from start to finish, including personal gear, gloves, hats, coats, batteries, headlamps and extra parts."
"Three twin-engined planes delivered 900 pounds of dog food, human food and supplies to the Eagle checkpoint on Saturday for the Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race. The only thing forgotten in Fairbanks was a hand of bananas."
"The 15 mushers attempting the 37th running of the Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race drew for their bib numbers and starting positions on Thursday night at the Quest’s Start and Draw Banquet."
"Since 1988, Dalton has missed only three Quests and holds the record for number of finishes, completing 23 of his 29 attempts."
"Richie Beattie and his team of 14 dogs led the group of 15 mushers attempting the 37th running of the Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race out of Fairbanks this morning, beginning the journey to Whitehorse, Yukon."
"Jason Campeau, of Rocky Mountain, Alberta, was the first musher to arrive at the Two Rivers checkpoint, the first checkpoint of the 2020 Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race."
"Despite his lack of trying, the two-time champion was still the first to depart each of the initial three checkpoints on Sunday: Two Rivers, Mile 101 and Central."
"Jeremy Traska of Two Rivers was the first of the 15 remaining YQ300 mushers to reach the Central checkpoint on Sunday."
"The Super Bowl was playing on all three of the televisions in the Central Corner roadhouse, but only a handful of the 40-plus people who had packed the small bar waiting for Yukon Quest teams to go by seemed interested in game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers."
"The four leaders of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race left Circle City checkpoint within an hour of each other Monday morning, each sticking to a similar strategy for the third day of the race: Don’t try to get ahead, don’t let yourself get too far behind and, most importantly, run your own race."
"Fairbanks musher Dave Turner passed Jeremy Traska in the YQ300’s final stretch from Circle City to Central on Monday night, pulling off a come-from-behind win."
"Mushers stumbled into the Circle City checkpoint dizzy from the previous 50 miles of Birch Creek trail, which is known for being winding, never-ending and cold."
For most dog mushers, the question, “Who’s your favorite dog?” is about a stone’s throw from asking, “Who’s your favorite child?” You’ll almost always get an answer along the lines of, “They’re all special.”
But for Brent Sass, a champion long-distance dog driver from Eureka, the answer will likely always be Silver.