A steady stream of trucks rolled into the Summit Logistics parking lot off Van Horn Road on Saturday afternoon, two weeks before the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race and the YQ300 start in Fairbanks, as mushers and dog handlers arrived for the races’ mandatory food drop.
While the event is referred to as the food drop, the hundreds of polypropylene gunny sacks that the mushers and handlers unloaded into nine piles contained much more than just sustenance.
Because the 1,000-mile Quest and the YQ300 — 300 miles along the same route — don’t allow any outside assistance, the bags contain everything the competitors and their dog teams will need to get from start to finish, including personal gear, gloves, hats, coats, batteries, headlamps and extra parts.
Each bag averages 40 pounds with the total load for a musher averaging around 1,500. Mushers typically spend between 10 and 15 days on the Quest trail.
As the gunny sacks were stacked and secured with plastic wrap on pallets and loaded into trailers, the same event was taking place in Whitehorse, Yukon, at the race’s finish line. Competitors traveled and dropped off their gear at whichever site was more convenient.
The bags, labeled with names and markings unique to each musher so they can easily identify their own, will start to make their way to the nine checkpoints along the course tomorrow.
“The last couple weeks has definitely been a lot of focus on cutting meat and getting everything prepared,” said Brent Sass, a Eureka resident and last year’s champion after unloading his 1,500 pounds of supplies.
The dog food that Sass and the rest of the field send out onto the course is not the same food that the everyday dog owner buys at the supermarket. It’s homemade and packed with fats, as the dogs burn around 12,000 calories on the trail each day.
Most mushers have a unique recipe. Dave Dalton, who will be making his 30th and final start in the 1000-mile race, said he mixed in “a couple of secret ingredients that I’m just going to keep to myself.”
Sass packed a variety of different foods for his team so the dogs have a choice. “One time they might want beef, one time they might want chicken,” he explained.
He followed a similar process for packing his own food.
“Just like with the dogs we have a smorgasbord of stuff that we put into each drop bag. So if I’m not craving one of those things I can grab something else.”
Sass was particularly looking forward to some of the baked goods that his family, friends and sponsors sent to him before the race. On the top of his mind at the food drop were Rice Krispie treats topped with Reese’s Pieces. “It’s really good and it eats well in the cold,” he said.
For Dalton, his race course treat is chocolate covered almonds.
In addition to Sass and Dalton, 28 other teams dropped bags at the Fairbanks site — 10 others for the 1000-mile race and 18 for the YQ300. In Yukon, three checked in for the Quest and three for the YQ300.
While Dalton and Sass are both mushers, the majority of the people making appearances Saturday were not.
Many mushers were busy this weekend taking their teams on training runs, which they will use to determine the 16 dogs they will bring to the mandatory vet check next Saturday. At the start of the race on Feb. 1 the mushers will start with only 14.
For 40-year old Sass, the food drop and the vet check are the more stressful parts of the race.
“I used to be really social and happy being around people, but now I’ve been living a more remote lifestyle the past five to 10 years...
“Getting through this, getting through the vet checks and getting through the banquets and all that stuff is probably what I’m most nervous about. And then once they say, ‘Go,’ we just get to race and do what we do.”
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7430. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.