Warm Quest promises hot dogs

FAIRBANKS Yukoner Kyla Boivin drew No.1. She will be the first musher out of the chute on Saturday morning, marking the start of the 23rd annual…


Yukoner Kyla Boivin drew No.1.

She will be the first musher out of the chute on Saturday morning, marking the start of the 23rd annual Yukon Quest, leaving from Fairbanks, Alaska.

She’s not happy about it.

“I don’t want them all fucking chasing me out of the starting chute,” said Boivin, swigging from a bottle of beer.

“I want time to get ready.”

But that’s the luck of the draw.

During last night’s starting banquet in Fairbanks, mushers were called to the stage in the order they had signed up for the race.

They drew from a barrel of colourful, used dog booties that had been collected on the Quest trail over the last few decades. In each bootie was a number, determining their starting positions.

While Boivin likes time to get ready, Sebastian Schnuelle, who lives 45 minutes north of Whitehorse, hates waiting.

He drew number 22, making him the last musher out of the chute this year.

“Every race I’m last or second last,” he said, with a thick German accent.

“I always had those numbers.”

Last year’s winner, Lance Mackey will leave in sixth place, while Whitehorse’s 18-year-old Kiara Adams drew eighth.

When it was Saul Turner’s turn, he invited his father to join him on stage and draw the bootie for him.

Frank Turner has run every Quest to date, and this year his son will run in his place, leaving the starting chute fifth.

Over the last few months, nine mushers have already dropped out of the race, leaving only 22 competitors.

“That was the biggest thing this year, the number of drop-outs,” said Canadian Quest manager Stephen Reynolds.

“But maybe this year there will be a higher number of mushers who finish, while those who wouldn’t have finished didn’t even make it to the start line.”

Mushers withdrew from the race for various reasons, including poor snow conditions.

The lack of snow made training difficult, not only in the Yukon, but also in the Prairie provinces, forcing an Albertan and a Saskatchewan musher to drop out, he said.

However, the Quest trail is in good condition, said race marshal Mike McCowan.

“There is more snow from Carmacks to Braeburn now, not a massive dump, but any more snow we will take,” he said.

“And leaving Fairbanks, it is going to be a fast race.”

There is some medium to difficult glaciation after Angel Creek, where mounds of ice and overflow will force mushers to hang on for dear life.

“The sleds get onto these slippery patches and the mushers have to ride one runner, trying to keep their sleds upright,” said McCowan.

With 14 excited dogs still full of energy this early into the race, it could prove tricky, especially when some of the mushers look like they weigh little more than 100 pounds.

The river run, from Circle to Eagle is reportedly as “smooth as we could want it,” said McCowan.

“From all the reports we’ve heard this year, there is no jumble ice.”

Huge chunks of ice on the river often force mushers to zigzag from bank to bank in an attempt to find the smoothest route.

“When they pick and choose their way through the jumble ice, there is a real danger of losing the trail,” said McCowan.

Three experienced bushwhackers have gone ahead to open the trail, and ensure the mushers’ route steers clear of the Yukon River’s many open sections.

“It’s going to be warm,” said McCowan, who was willing to predict Quest temperatures until the 16th.

“The highs will reach four degrees Celsius, while the lows will linger at around minus 22, heading towards Dawson,” he said.

Meanwhile, the mushers’ starting banquet was packed with family, friends, Quest supporters, sponsors and volunteers.

Although it was a celebratory night, there was a competitive charge to the air.

When asked about new techniques or strategy changes, few mushers were willing to give their schemes and intentions away.

“I’ll tell you mine,” Mackey told the crowd.

“But Hans Gatt has to leave the room.

“Just be nice to your dog team, and I hope you get on the trail,” he said.

“It’s all about keeping (the dogs) happy,” agreed Skagway’s Hugh Neff.

“The Quest’s greatest musher is Hans Gatt, and its greatest dog team is Mackey’s,” he added.

“I’m ready to stop thinking about it and start doing it,” said Alaskan rookie Richie Beattie.

The Quest racers take off from downtown Fairbanks Saturday at 11 a.m.