FAIRBANKS — The government shutdown’s effect has reached the mushing community.
Andrew Pace and Kristin Knight Pace were preparing for Andrew to run this year’s Yukon Quest 1,000-Mile International Sled Dog Race when the government shutdown began Dec. 22.
For the married couple, who live in Healy and are both full-time National Park Service employees, the idea of being out of work was unsettling.
Throw in the fact that Andrew, a maintenance worker for the NPS, was a little more than a month away from fielding a team in the Yukon Quest, and the shutdown really started triggering alarms.
“We’re both full-time NPS employees,” Pace said. “It’s our entire income. It’s gonzo, which is pretty poor timing if you’re also trying to run a 1,000-mile dog race.”
Thanks in part to a Facebook fundraiser started by Alaska mushing legend Lance Mackey on Jan. 17, Andrew and Kristin’s story began spreading across social media.
More than 100 people have donated to the fundraiser — which started with a goal to raise $3,000 — in the days since. As of Tuesday evening, the total amount raised was $6,625, an amount Andrew said will help alleviate the many costs that go into entering a team in the Quest.
“Our jaws just started dropping,” he said about seeing donations starting to roll in. “It’s just astounding. I have people that are in the race with me — Paige (Drobny) and Martin (Apayauq Reitan), who I’ve never met — and people a part of the Quest organization that are donating.
“Just to see that, when you know what it takes for people to exist in this community, never mind running the race, it’s such a huge financial burden for anyone. So for them to be able to find the ability to contribute to us, just so we would be able to go get to the start line, it’s an incredible display of generosity, the likes of which we could’ve never imagined or fathomed.”
Neither Pace nor Knight Pace have been working during the shutdown. The effect it has had on the couple continues to get worse each day.
“It was right around the New Year that we missed our first check,” he said. “We’re going to miss our second Tuesday, so that will be four total between the two of us.”
Although the fundraiser exceeded its initial goal, Knight Pace, who works as a wildness coordinator for Denali and Gates of the Arctic, said the additional money that was raised will come in handy. She noted it costs about $5,000 to drive the Quest trail between fuel, food and lodging for a team of handlers, adding that the additional $1,500 will help the couple pay their mortgage in Healy.
As much as Pace said he has appreciated the generosity of those who have donated, he mentioned that the experience of dealing with the shutdown wasn’t something his family anticipated weeks before the Quest.
“We do feel pretty marooned by our own government,” he said. “It’s not a good feeling. Any time you’re accepting this level of charity, you kind of feel like — and you’re made to feel like by some folks — like you’re wanting a handout. It’s just an awkward position we never intended to be in.”
Depending on how long the shutdown continues, the couple may still be out of work when they return to Healy. For now, though, Pace said he’s looking forward to getting to Whitehorse, Yukon, and being at the start line when the race begins Feb. 2.
“We still have our trepidation about whether or not we’re going to have jobs when we get back,” he said. “But for the time being, we can absolutely put our immediate stress aside and focus on the task at hand and worry about going through the race and trying to honor the generosity of all those people the best we can along the trail.”
Donations can still be made at bit.ly/2B1jkGt.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy and @FDNMQuest.