Fairbanks, AK - Yukon Quest mushers dropped off all the food and gear they’ll need for the 1000-mile sled dog race in both Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon over the weekend. Race Manager Alex Olesen says the race becomes more of a reality once all that gear has been delivered.
“I mean we’re not ready, we’re never all the way be ready,” he said. “There’s always going to be things that come, there’s things that will break, there’s things that will change, but now it’s on!” said Olesen.
On Saturday, at least 15 volunteers heft bags filled with everything from wool socks to chunks of frozen fish and meat from the back of a pick up truck.
Long before these polypropylene bags were dropped off in Fairbanks, mushers like Cody Strathe had them laid out and labeled waiting to be filled in the driveway at Squid Acres Kennel – home of the sled dogs both he and wife Paige Drobny train for mid-distance and long-distance races like the Yukon Quest.
“I think last year, I had probably 40 total bags for the Yukon Quest,” he said. “Right now, I’ve made a spread sheet that tells how many snacks and how many meals I need at each checkpoint.”
A week ago, Strathe stood over a wooden table in front of his house, with a knife in his hand. A strong, musty stench hung in the air.
“Ok, well, I’ve got a couple beaver carcasses laid out her eon the table and I am cutting the meat off,” said Strathe. “The meat is one of the dogs’ favorite snacks on the race. For some reason this stinky gross beaver met is just absolutely one of their favorites.”
A few feet away, there’s a different kind of smell. Friend Matt Cameron mans a giant saw to slice up a long, frozen block of something green and lumpy. It’s frozen tripe, or cow stomach.
“Yeah, it smells pretty bad, butt he dogs love it!” Cameron laughed.
The tripe, the beaver meat and all kinds of other dog food are packed into the drop bags. But these bags aren’t just filled with food.
There’s also a flurry of activity inside Cody Strathe’s house.
Fellow musher and friend Mandy Nauman sits on the living room flood amid a heap of handwarmers.
“Any help is much needed and I’m here to help,” she said.
She drove a team in the Yukon Quest last year, so she’s familiar with the scenario playing out today.
“At some point during the race, the musher is going to appreciate all the work that all their friends put in,” said Nauman.
Over at the kitchen counter, a pot of caribou stew bubbles as long-time friend Matt Austin scoops teaspoons of red powder into small plastic bags. After he’s done with that, he’ll organize other dog food supplements, additives, oils and ointments for sled dogs. It’s a tedious job, but that’s what he’s here for.
“It’s just fun to be a part of the whole scene and help good people out,” said Austin. “It’s awesome to be able to give a hand and hang out friends and drink some beer and have some food and just be social.”
Not every musher throws a drop-bag party like this to prepare meals, sort dog booties and double check packing lists.
Rookie Kristin Knight-Pace of Healy says she and husband Andrew were huddled in their one room cabin with all her gear spread out the night before she was set to deliver her bags to race personnel.
“This is the biggest relief ever. This is like the hardest hurdle,” she laughed.
She says keeping track off all her gear and everything for her dog team is an enormous challenge.
“This is my first 1000 mile race, so it’s the fist time I’ve ever had to pack for this long of a trip,” said Knight-Pace.
“I’ve been thinking about it like all those people that through-hike the PCT. They mail all their stuff to themselves ahead of time at all these post offices along the trail and that’s how I feel this is,” she said. “It’s a relief to know that it’s juts going off into the world and what’s done is done.”
Over the next two weeks, drop bags will be shipped to checkpoints along the 1000 mile trail. They’ll be ready and waiting for mushers after they leave the start line of the 32nd annual Yukon Quest February 7th.