CENTRAL, Alaska — The Yukon Quest made satellite tracking devices a mandatory part of mushers’ gear five years ago, giving fans on the Internet the opportunity to monitor teams as they navigate the trail.
The SPOT Personal Trackers never completely took up the mystery of the race, however, with signals occasionally stopping for hours at a time.
This year, a few changes seem to have eased those glitches, said Race Marshal Doug Grilliot. Dog teams have rarely gone more than 10 minutes without a trail update.
Grilliot said a new generation of trackers seems to have improved reliability. Teams are also now required to carry two devices — one that allows a musher to send an emergency signal to officials, and another that simply transmits a team’s movements.
Grilliot said the Quest is experimenting to see if the new SPOT Trace can last the entire race on a single charge, which had been part of previous cause of reliability problems.
“We’re kind of doing a test for them, which is cool,” he said.
The up-to-date tracking is available at the Yukon Quest website at www.yukonquest.com.
Jean-Denis Britten on Sunday became the first musher to scratch from this year’s Yukon Quest.
The Dawson City musher left the race at the Mile 101 checkpoint on Sunday afternoon. Race officials in Central didn’t immediately know the reason for his departure.
Britten is a Quest veteran, finishing in ninth place in 2008.
An even schedule
The standings during the early stages of the Yukon Quest can be a little deceptive, because mushers leave the starting chute in 4-minute intervals. Some teams start the race an hour or more behind the lead musher.
That’s no longer an issue. When mushers take their mandatory 4-hour break at Mile 101 or Central, their departure time is adjusted to even out those differences.
For the rest of the race, times will accurately reflect each team’s position in the standings.
The Yukon Quest dominated the day at the Central checkpoint on Sunday, but the Super Bowl was still the backdrop at Central Corner, the bar, restaurant and grocery store in the Steese Highway community.
A handful of Seahawks fans lined the bar to watch the game on a pair of televisions, breaking into loud cheers with each big play.
A dozen or so mushers stopped by to eat a quick meal during the game, but didn’t seem to take as much interest. Someone at the checkpoint tried to lure Cody Strathe into the bar to check out the game, but he barely paused before moving down the trail.
“I don’t care about that stuff,” Strathe replied.
Follow staff writer Jeff Richardson on Twitter: @FDNMquest