A shorter Quest is no less authentic in the time of COVID-19.
Mushers and their dogs may be as close to possessing an indomitable spirit as anyone you’ll meet, so it’s not surprise they found a way to continue the Yukon Quest tradition during the time of COVID-19.
The most obvious change happened when Quest officials canceled the 1,000 Mile International race in lieu of the Summit Quest 300, a much shorter race that still incorporates the most difficult obstacles in Alaska. Officials in Canada didn’t hold any race at all.
Teams were expected to be more self-sufficient this year than in years past, although racers commented on their surprise at how much assistance was still available.
An expectation of being more self sufficient also applied to the media, something I was ready for during my third time covering the quest for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
During a typical year covering the Yukon Quest, media members have it pretty easy compared to dog mushers, their handlers and race volunteers.
Circle School usually lets reporters sleep inside on the floor. While this historically made me feel spoiled and disconnected from the race, I was not one to complain about warmth, bathrooms, microwaves and even a gym where I could shoot a few hoops after filing photos.
This year, I felt much more in-tune with mushers while working and sleeping in the back of my van (a technique employed by handlers every year) as temperatures dropped near 40 below zero the first night. Everything froze, my propane stove struggled to simmer what little water I could draw and I struggled to keep my laptop operable.
Of course, my experience is incomparable to anything mushers were tasked with. I had three sleeping bags and nearby access to hot food and water, thanks to generous volunteers. I could start my car to warm up, even if it seemed to make a minimal difference and was not worth getting out of bed to do. I also didn’t have a team of dogs to worry about.
But it was without doubt a more challenging adventure than years past, even being on the trail only a fraction of the time. It was an experience that I’ll tell myself, whether accurate or not, was slightly more authentic to the Yukon Quest.
Robin Wood is a former staff reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. He is now a freelance writer and photographer based out of Fairbanks. His work can be seen at medianorthak.com. Contact him at email@example.com.