1000 Miles of Alaska and the Yukon-via Sled Dog Racing

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The Yukon Quest.  1000 miles of serious dog mushing and this year, extreme cold temperatures.  The race started at 40 below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.  Yep, -40.  I can’t even imagine.  But, the dogs and the mushers are prepared.  Mostly.  At this stage of the game, at about the halfway point of Dawson City, Yukon, Allen Moore of SP Kennels is running 2nd place.  Aliy Zirkle just finished the 300 mile Yukon in 2nd place.  The biggest challenge has been the extreme cold.  Five mushers have scratched, or left the race, already, citing “for the good of the team”.  One musher said, he just wouldn’t have enough food to get his dogs to the end.  The dogs eat a lot more food than normal, because of what they burn off in the cold temps.  Another musher, having dropped six dogs at a checkpoint, realized it wasn’t fair to ask the other eight dogs to run another 700 miles.

There are lots of animal rights activists and lovers of animals that have serious problems with the race.  Cruelty to the dogs, etc, etc.  What watching this sport seriously for the last 3 years has revealed is:

a: the mushers care for the dogs before themselves

b: the race requires full vet checks by race veterinarians prior to the race (including EKG’s!), and then at every checkpoint there is a mandatory vet check for each dog.  (I do sometimes wonder if there shouldn’t be a Dr. check for the mushers!!)

c: the mushers care for the dogs before themselves

I have never seen such admiration for dogs as I have watching the mushers with their dogs.  Following SP Kennels because of the transparency of the Kennel and what the process is in training dogs and people for these races, the absolute care of their dogs, and the overall open-ness of Aliy and Allen is a great experience!

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After a mandatory 24 hour rest in Dawson City, the race will cross the Yukon River and will finish out on the Alaska, US side.  I’ve actually been to a few spots along this route on my visits to Alaska.  First point the trail hits is 40 Mile.  We had a picnic lunch along the Yukon at this spot.  Beautiful and peaceful. Next the trail takes the mushers up and over American Summit.  When the tour bus stopped here, we got out and followed a foot path to the top and I experienced my first footfalls on the “tundra”.  Spongy would be my description. But if you can lift your eyes from the experience of the ground you will see the most vast view you’ve probably experienced.  As far as your eyes will allow you to see, you can take in a 360 degree, uninterrupted view, of Alaska and all her glory.  The mushers will be battling high winds across three miles of trail across the top, and then the trail will head 20 miles down to Eagle Alaska.  The only way in or out in the winter is by air…or sled dog.  There is one road and after having traveled it by tour bus during the summer, it is understandable why it is closed in the winter.  If there was to ever be another visit to Eagle…it would have to be by air for me!  From Eagle the trail winds its way to the end at Fairbanks.  A few places along the way would be on my list to visit next time I head to Alaska.  Circle City, Eagle Summit, and Chena Hotsprings to name a few.

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The Yukon Quest and the Iditarod Sled Dog Races are held each winter.  Both 1000 miles long, both test the capabilities of the mushers, more than that of the dogs.  The Yukon Quest runs from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to Fairbanks, Alaska or vice-versa…switching the route every year.  The Iditarod runs from Anchorage, Alaska to Nome, Alaska, or as the case is this year, Fairbanks to Nome.  Announcement was just made that the start would be moved due to a lack of snow along the southern portion of the route.  The Iditarod last year claimed the most experienced of mushers with broken ankles, concussions, getting lost in blind white-out snows, lack of snow-covered trails that just battered and bruised.  This year, maybe the change will alleviate some of that.  Here’s hoping.  Go SP Kennels!

I wrote about Alaska for a year online at BellaOnline.com.  Here is a link Alaska From the Outside Looking In  to a small book compilation of those articles.  Kirkus Reviews had this to say about it:

“…Engler’s short, unitimidating book will leave most readers checking to see how many vacation days they have left.”

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