It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since I last travelled to the wintery “Great White North” to catch what I think is one of Canada’s great traditional sporting spectacles – the Yukon Quest. This year, the event just so happened to coincide with an invitation extended by one of my clients, the awesome “Air North, Yukon’s Airline” to attend an annual sales and marketing planning session at their Whitehorse HQ.
So Friday morning I headed out to YVR to board the 11:30am Air North flight bound for Whitehorse. Clear skies were in order and I spent quite a bit of time gasping over the beauty of the frozen landscapes that were being presented below. After a few short hours the wheels were down and were skidding along a partially snowy runway at Whitehorse International Airport.
Acclimatising in Whitehorse
My good mate Chad was generously standing at the baggage carousel when I emerged from the oh-so-short walk from the Air North Boeing 737 to the arrivals lounge (a MASSIVE contrast to the 1km+ to the same end in Shanghai last year). There’s always a certain chilly thrill I get from leaving the Whitehorse International Airport terminal during the winter and hoofing it to a vehicle a couple of dozen meters away. Despite the small distance, the cold which you can almost guarantee will be -15 degrees celsius or worse, still has enough time to penetrate every last soft tissue in your body leaving you more than aware that your’re but a day’s drive to the Arctic Circle.
On Friday, it was no different.
The only way to combat the need to acclimatise, of course, was to throw on a heavy, fur lined, hooded jacket and wander into town, and down to the edge of the mighty Yukon River, to have a look around. I’ve become quite familiar with this Northern town over the years, so finding something to eat and a few decent galleries to peruse was no effort.
The Starting Line
With the 2011 Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile Race set to kick off at 11am (so I found out from the official website on Friday night) I was up early enough to hopefully slip out of the house without disturbing baby Sonny, Chad or Peg. As it turned out, Chad was already up by the time I got vertical, so we made plans to meet in the early afternoon in town towards the end of the race start.
With that I scampered off heading for main street where the race has kicked off the last two years (2007/2009) that Whitehorse has hosted the race start. By the time I was 3/4 of the way down the main street I began to wonder if I had gotten the dates all mixed up, or something. The place was deserted. Had it not been for a small printed sign on a door at the end of the street letting people know that the start line had been moved this year, about 1km away at “Shipyard’s Park”, I would have been left scratching my head wondering what happened to the race.
A quick change of course and I soon found myself in a large car park area that was doubling as the crew assembly area for the 25 crews taking part (see table below) in the 2011 event.
|2011 Yukon Quest 1,000 Mushers|
|18||Ken Anderson||Veteran||Fairbanks, Alaska||American|
|17||Jodi Bailey||Rookie||Chatanika, Alaska||American|
|16||Joshua Cadzow||Veteran||Fort Yukon, Alaska||American|
|23||David Dalton||Veteran||Healy, Alaska||American|
|20||Dennis Allen||Veteran||Salcha, Alaska||American|
|14||Kyla Durham||Rookie||Fairbanks/Eureka, Alaska||American|
|05||Mike Ellis||Veteran||Two Rivers, Alaska||American|
|13||Hans Gatt||Veteran||Whitehorse, Yukon||Ellbogen, Austria|
|01||Kelley Griffin||Veteran||Wasilla, Alaska||American|
|21||Jerry Joinson||Rookie||Fort-St James||Canadian|
|10||Dan Kaduce||Veteran||Chatanika, Alaska||American|
|15||Wade Marrs||Rookie||Wasilla, Alaska||American|
|07||Moggia Didier||Veteran||Whitehorse, Yukon||Canadian|
|24||Allen Moore||Rookie||Two Rivers, Alaska||American|
|08||Hugh Neff||Veteran||Tok, Alaska & Annie Lake, Yukon||American|
|04||Michelle Phillips||Veteran||Tagish, Yukon||Canadian|
|09||Christine Roalofs||Rookie||Anchorage, Alaska||American|
|12||Tamara Rose||Rookie||Fairbanks, Alaska||American|
|06||Johannes Rygh||Rookie||Kasilof, Alaska||Norwegian|
|22||Brent Sass||Veteran||Eureka/Fairbanks, Alaska||American|
|11||Sebastian Schnuelle||Veteran||Paxson, Alaska||German, Canadian|
|03||Dallas Seavey||Rookie||Willow, Alaska||American|
|25||Clint Warnke||Rookie||Fairbanks, Alaska||Canadian|
With final preparations including vet checks taking place, it was the perfect opportunity to get around and take some up close profile shots of these beautiful beasts before making my way to the starting line/chute where all the action kicked off right on 11am like clockwork!
As we’ve done on previous occasions, as soon as the last team ripped down the chute away from the starting line, Chad and I, after a quick coffee to warm up our insides, jumped in his truck and headed out to a far bend in the Takinhi River, a bend where we’d be able to get down onto the frozen river surface and get close to the passing dog teams without the crowds present back in town.
It’s always a bit of a gold mine photography-wise, and our efforts to make it out there in time, this time, didn’t go without reward as you can see from the following selection of shots.
After a quick return back to home base for less than an hours rest, it was back down to the starting line ready for the start of the smaller “Yukon Quest 300” race as the light began to fade.
Yukon Quest 300 Kicks Off
Featuring less experienced mushers and mushers looking to use the 300 as a way of qualifying for future Yukon Quest 1,000 and Iditarod challenges, this year’s 300 starting list featured some familiar faces for me from previous Whitehorse starts, as well as a healthy International representation with mushers from Switzerland, France and even Australia taking part.
|2011 Yukon Quest 300 Mushers|
|57||Gerry Willomitzer||Shallow Bay, Yukon|
|54||Ed Hopkins||Tagish, Yukon|
|70||Mathias Lynggaard Bech||Shallow Bay, Yukon|
|64||Aliy Zirkle||Fairbanks, Alaska|
|58||Susie Rogan||Whitehorse, Yukon|
|72||Paige Drobny||Fairbanks, Alaska|
|73||Misha Pedersen||Willow, Alaska|
|67||Nathan McNee||Greenwood, Western Australia|
|60||Brian Wilmshurst||Dawson City, Yukon|
|74||Jessie Royer||Fairbanks, Alaska|
|56||Yuka Honda||Whitehorse, Yukon|
|55||Oyvind Jakobsen||Fairbanks, Alaska|
|62||Ryne Olson||Two Rivers, Alaska|
|59||Fabian Schmitz||Whitehorse, Yukon|
|63||Megan Routley||Logan Lake, British Columbia|
|71||Jonathan Lucas||Whitehorse, Yukon|
|66||Maren Bradley||Whitehorse, Yukon|
|52||Dyan Bergen||Yellowknife, Northwest Territories|
|51||Kathleen Frederick||Willow, Alaska|
|53||Eric Pourteau||Hautes-Pyrénées, France|
|68||Tom Schonberger||Chugiak, Alaska|
|61||Genesee Keevil||Whitehorse, Yukon|
All-in-all, a predictably enjoyable day in pretty comfortable temperatures under blue skies – a trend that one can only hope will follow the mushers and their teams as they make their way towards the respective finish lines in Fairbanks, Alaska (1,000 Race) and Pelly Crossing, Yukon (300 Race).
As darkness fell, it was time for me to head back to join Chad, Peg & little Sonny and some of their extended family members for a delicious dinner of Elk Tacos! That’s right, Elk Tacos! So awesome!
Lodging payment via hard labour
Now that Peg has little Sonny (only a few months old) to attend to round the clock, it seemed only right that I pay for the lodging and generous hospitality afforded me by my hosts over the course of the weekend by throwing on my “lumberjack” cap and heading out into the forest to help Chad take down some trees for firewood for the next month and a bit.
Hitting the road early Sunday morning and chasing the pink-washed sky out of town into a beautiful part of the territory, we eventually came to a spot Chad knew well, that was in a legal firewood gathering zone, and we began the task of finding dead trees to cut down, chop up, and load into the sizeable trailer we were hauling. With the snow being about thigh deep, it wasn’t the easiest of tasks, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the job to be a holiday by any means.
Over 6-7 hours, we took down 8 large spruce, fir & pine trees with a chainsaw, cut them up into perfect fire log chunks and arranged them carefully in the trailer to maximise carrying capacity.
So, how did we go in the end? Well, needless to say the house should stay cosy and warm for the next little bit with a decent triple-layered stack of prime firewood now in the front yard all ready to go.
The only thing left to do was head indoors, cast off a few layers, stoke up the fire and settle down in front of the TV with Sonny and watch the Superbowl. NFL in general, and therefore the game, doesn’t do much for me, but a little armchair sport action to cap off the eventful weekend was just what the doctor ordered!