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Yukon Quest

Mushers Anticipate a 'Challenging' Quest Trail

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Mark Gillet
/
Yukon Quest

Fairbanks, AK - 18 mushers and their dog teams will leave the start line of the 2014 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race on Saturday.  They drew bib numbers at a banquet in Fairbanks Thursday night.  Mushers and spectators alike expect an exciting race this year due to icy and wet trail conditions and unseasonably warm weather .

Yukon Quest Race Marshall Doug Grilliot has kept close tabs on trail conditions this week.  He has one word to describe what trail to Whitehorse looks like. “You know, challenging," he laughs. 

Grilliot has finished the Quest twice himself.  He says he’s confident he and the rest of the officiating team will make the right decisions for sled dogs. “Every official I have is a finisher of a big race – Quest, Iditarod or both.  I value their experience," he says.  "Our trailbreakers  - most of them have run dogs so you’re getting a first-hand look at people who’ve actually done it, so yeah I’d be comfortable sending my dogs out on whatever I’m going to send the mushers out on," says Grilliot.

Fairbanks Musher Ken Anderson says he’s not all that concerned about the warm weather or the lack of fresh snow.  It’s his fourth time down the trail. He says rough conditions are characteristic of the Yukon Quest. “You go into these races ready for anything," says Anderson.  "For instance, my first year it was like 60 below on Birch Creek.  By the time we got to Eagle – and we were going this direction Fairbanks to Whitehorse – it had warmed up about a 100 degrees.  I’m not kidding, it was like right around freezing,” he says.

But Rookie Tony Angelo, also from Fairbanks is concerned about his dogs.  He runs Siberian huskies – a thick-coated breed that may not fare as well as Alaskan huskies in the unseasonably warm weather.
“They’re good from zero to minus twenty and they’re good at minus forty," says Angelo, "but you start talking about plus 20 and plus 30 and my dogs don’t do real good.  I had to run the Copper Basin last year when we had that heat wave when it was 40 above and we had to run over lakes that were thawing and my dogs, it made them slow, but they kept doing it," he says.

At the start banquet, Whitehorse musher Normand Casavant seemed excited for a challenging trail ahead.
“It’s gonna be rock and ice!” he laughs.

Casavant has finished the Quest three times.  He will be the first to find out just how tough the trail really is. He’ll wear bib number one this year.  He says it’s a number he’s ready for. “Yeah, that’s fine because my second year, I had the bib number 10 and I finished 10th and last year, I had bib number seven and I finished 7th so now that I have bib number one, who knows maybe I’m going to finish first," Casavant laughs.  "That’s a good way to see it, I think!”

Rookie Matt Hall drew bib number three.  He grew up in Eagle, watching dog teams come through the checkpoint there.  Even though the weekend forecast does call for cooler temperatures, he says it’s still unlikely to be ideal for his team. “I would rather it be a little bit colder," he laughs nervously.  "So you know, I think the Quest is just going to be night running – a long rest during the day and we’ll just march all through the night slow and steady,” says Hall.

Race officials have made a few changes to the race route.  Teams won’t climb over American Summit outside of Eagle. Instead they’ll run along the Yukon River the midway point in Dawson City.  The change decreases the total race distance by approximately 50 miles.  The start and finish lines have also been moved due to weak river ice and open water.