After the long drive on an icy road we eventually reached the famous Dawson City, the halfway point of the Yukon Race. As I mentioned in part one, this is where the handler’s work really starts.
Julie making sure we had all the bags of food and hay bales needed for the 48 hour mandatory stop
The mandatory stop
Most of the mushers stay in town in hotels during the two-day break, while the handlers prepare and then manage camp. A small area is allocated where the handlers shovel tonnes of snow and set up a tent for the dogs and also for themselves as handlers will spend the next two days making sure none of the dogs are disturbed and that every dog is resting well for the next part of the race.
We spent all morning putting up the dogs’ tent and ours (no picture of ours as the dogs really had the nicest one of the two).
Everything doesn’t always go as planned. Unfortunately some of the bags of food thawed a bit, just enough to stick all the portioned dog food block together. The meat was still good but it meant a lot more work separating them again.
As excited and energetic as the dogs can be at the departure, when seeing them arriving at Dawson City you would never guess they were the same dogs. Exhausted from all the running they are happy to go straight to sleep. They spent practically all the 48 hours sleeping in the tent we built, except for the short walks we gave them every few hours.
This part of the race was probably the hardest. Sleeping only a few hours at a time in a cold tent was not really the most comfortable thing in the world but by that point, I was so tired I would just fall asleep as soon as I would hit my sleeping bag.
THE HARDEST PART OF THE RACE
Fortunately enough at this time most of the team were still in really good shape and only one did not recover enough to keep going. At this point, the vets were carefully keeping track of each dog to make sure that they were well hydrated and that they did not loose too much weight. With the amount of energy they use a dog with a good layer of fat will shrink away if he does not eat properly. Denis’s dogs all had a good appetite and it was not a problem.
Two days later the dogs were back to their excited selves and ready to finish the race.
At this point, we had to backtrack because the road to Alaska from Dawson is closed over winter so we had to drive all the way back to Whitehorse and take the Alaska Hwy. The journey made us go through the Kluane National Park (home of the tallest mountain in Canada, Mount Logan) with its magnificent scenery. We stopped in Fairbanks before heading north to Circle to rejoin the Yukon river and wait for our musher.
This part of the race is particularly difficult for the mushers as it involves travelling along the river and scaling many summits. Even the road can be treacherous and dangerous. Walls of ice can build up from the wind and the weather can change rapidly leaving you in a blinding blizzard with a risk of getting lost.
Not even knowing it until we actually arrived in Circle, we had a storm on our tail all along. We were lucky enough not to have caught any of it. Denis, on the other hand, was having a hard time along the river; dogs falling in holes in the ice, difficult terrain and that blizzard.
Later on in camp when Denis was telling the story, I was in my sleeping bag and all I could see was snow flying horizontally outside. I just did not want to leave.
Lucky for everyone, another musher tagged along with Denis kept his moral up for that difficult part of the race, and later on too.
An attraction of Circle: the Alaskan equivalent of the British red telephone box.
Yes, we were still smiling! We had a good night’s sleep in Circle (the community let us sleep in the school gym for small donation). We were also starting to see the end and also a small pre-finish reward, the natural hot springs at Shena.
At Central, like at all of the checkpoints, volunteers did their best to keep us nice and warm. We had a great time talking to the locals and learning about the region. To my surprise gold prospecting is still a large part of this community economy; gold nugget jewellery is no rarity here.
Checkpoint ”Mile 101” – we stayed in a nice warm cabin and had a well-deserved breakfast.
shena Hot springs
From here we only had one more stop at Two River before Fairbanks. We took a bit of spare time to go and bath in the nearby Shena hot springs. As part of the Shena resort, there is also an ice museum (we just had bad timing and could not visit it) and the food is excellent. This was definitely a place not to miss visiting.
And finally, Fairbanks. Denis finished 14th with 9 of the 12 dogs he left with. He had no intention of winning the race but to achieve a good run and be part of the small select group of people to actually finish the race. In all, he was pleased with his performance.
the finishing line
Presentation of the snowshoe to Allen Moore, winner of 2013 Yukon quest. In the background, you can see a red lamp which is given every year to the last person to finish as a symbol of hope.
This was the end of my experience at the 2013 Yukon Quest. Just after Julie and Denis dropped me off in Whitehorse I realised I did not even have the chance to dog sled. The life of a part-time handler!