Village racing meets big money mushing

Josh Cadzow's low on dog food. On the 338-kilometre stretch into Dawson, the Fort Yukon, Alaska, native ran out. "I gave them lots of water," he said. Cadzow shipped three to four bags of kibble to every check


Josh Cadzow’s low on dog food.

On the 338-kilometre stretch into Dawson, the Fort Yukon, Alaska, native ran out.

“I gave them lots of water,” he said.

Cadzow shipped three to four bags of kibble to every checkpoint, along with beaver, beef and fish.

“But I need six to seven (bags) – almost double,” he said.

“It takes a lot of food, and I know I’m not the only one (who’s short).

“It’s stuff I’m learning, as a rookie.”

Cadzow has asked other mushers to leave their extra food at checkpoints for the rest of the race.

It shouldn’t be a problem, the dogs are looking good, he said.

Cadzow hails from a long line of First Nation sprint mushers, but now he’s branching out into distance racing.

And it’s a steep learning curve.

“I’ve been listening to the (other mushers) talk about how they train,” he said.

“I’m going to change my training style.”

He also wants to alter his breeding to get “more lopers and less trotters.”

In his remote, fly-in community of approximately 700, Cadzow’s a big name.

And sometimes it precedes him.

On their way to Whitehorse, the Cadzows stopped for gas. Someone saw the name on the truck and offered to fill their tank.

“And he was a total stranger,” said Cadzow’s dad Clifton.

Every musher in Fort Yukon has some of my dogs, said Josh, who drives a fuel truck in the community.

Dogs that aren’t good enough for the Cadzows usually end up as lead dogs on other teams.

“Every dog gets a chance,” he said.

“But we only keep the best around – otherwise we can’t afford to feed them.”

Some Quest mushers think of their huskies as family – referring to the dogs as kids.

For the Cadzows, they’re work animals.

“The dogs are on the job,” said Josh.

Things like the massages, which most mushers have been giving their teams during the Dawson layover, are not part of Josh’s routine.

“We don’t massage our dogs at home, so I don’t see why we’d do it now,” he said.

“They do their job, and when their time is up É they go to St. Michaels.”

It’s dog heaven, said Cadzow.

In a village context people can’t afford to keep dogs that aren’t integral to their team, said veteran musher Frank Turner, hanging around the Dawson checkpoint on Thursday.

“I’m against culling,” he said. “But until the economic circumstances of village life changes, it will remain.

“It’s sometimes easy to apply our own standards without having an appreciation of someone else’s circumstances.

“Things aren’t always black and white.”

Turner ships dog food to a musher in Old Crow on a regular basis.

The food costs $1 a pound – the freight is another 77 cents per pound on top of that, and the shipping is even more if you buy less than 1,000 pounds.

“It’s no excuse for what happens,” said Turner. “But we have to recognize the reality of the circumstances that create these conditions.”

Shooting dogs is “a sore subject,” said Clifton. “But you have to. You can’t afford to keep the grampas and dogs that don’t work.”

There was one old guy Clifton couldn’t shoot.

“He was one of my leaders and I couldn’t do it,” he said.

It turned out there was a schoolteacher living in the community who wanted a dog, and took Clifton’s elderly leader in as a pet.

If the dogs weren’t shot and just sat chained in the yard that would be “just as bad,” said Clifton.

If you’re in the tourist business it’s possible to keep old dogs around, said Josh.

“But we don’t have enough money to take care of dogs that won’t help us.”

It’s a last resort, added Josh’s cousin and handler Ashley.

“A lot we give away as pets,” he said.

“You spend all that time raising them, so you want to give them a chance.”

The Cadzows have been in dogs for as long as Clifton can remember.

“My mom used them for hauling wood and water,” he said.

“That was in the 1940s.”

Every family in the village had dogs back then, but only about seven or eight each, said Clifton. “There were 15 families so that’s still a lot of dogs.”

These days, snowmachines have replaced most of Fort Yukon’s dog teams.

But Clifton and his two brothers are still mushing.

“I remember my first three-dog race,” said Clifton.

He was 13 years old, and was racing against two other teams in the village.

“The other two got in a tangle in front of me and I passed them,” he said.

“I still remember that.”

When he was a teenager, Clifton’s mom was strict about dog care.

“She always made sure we fed them and watered them,” he said.

Now, he’s watching his son feed and water a team made up of his dogs and dogs from his two brothers.

“He’s got two of mine, a couple of his own, six from Jay (his uncle) É how many’s that?” said Clifton.

The dogs took some time to get used to running together. But they all know each other, he said. “They see each other at races, and hear each other howling in the village.”

Clifton got rid of all his dogs in 2000, when he moved to Fairbanks. But in the last few years, he’s started building up a kennel again.

“I have 12,” he said.

He moved to Fairbanks to give his three kids the option of living in the city. His daughter and his 12-year-old son, who plays hockey, jumped at the chance.

“He has nothing to do with dogs,” said Clifton.

Josh is the opposite.

When he was up to his dad’s knee, he was already asking to run his father’s team.

“He wanted to drive eight of them,” said Clifton with a smile.

Most of the Cadzows are sprint mushers, including Josh’s cousin Ashley.

“I never really got into distance mushing,” said Ashley.

But handling for Josh “has been fun so far,” he said.

“The hardest part is sitting and watching him and not being able to help him.”

Josh has been pulling off some long runs, said Clifton, back in Pelly.

“He likes to do 60- and 70-mile runs, but I’m always afraid of that, because there’s always the possibility he might not have such a good run.”

Clifton, who ran the Quest in the ‘80s and made it as far as Dawson, favours six-hour runs.

“I like to have fresh dogs,” he said.

“But Josh and I are still both learning.

The 21-year-old has made a few mistakes, said Clifton. “But he’s a young musher, and that’s how you learn.”

“I wish I’d made some better decisions earlier, about dropping dogs I ended up having to carry,” said Josh.

“But I’m having fun.

“We’re getting into it.”

Josh left Dawson in 11th place just before 7 a.m. Friday morning.

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