Even the dogs were ready: 1,000-mile Yukon Quest starts again

Julia Taylor/ Sun Star Contributor 

Feb. 4, 2014

Yukon Quest Dogs 2 cover

Photo courtesy goes to Julia Taylor

Every athlete in the Yukon Quest has to be physically and mentally ready for the grueling, 1,000-mile race. When the countdown goes from a minute warning to the final seconds, every muscle has to be ready to pull the sled out of the gate.

The athletes double check their gear, the weather and discuss last-minute strategy with their support staff. The canine athletes are all trash talk. Up and down the line of sleds, dogs bark their readiness and announce their impatience as they wait to charge in front of their musher, whining and yelping their excitement as they wait. The cacophony of sound can be heard blocks away, and there is no doubt that the lungs of these dogs are in top shape.

The dogs on a Yukon Quest team need both speed and endurance, no matter where they are in the line.

The Yukon Quest website characterizes the Quest sled dogs as marathon athletes, “bred from stock that survived and thrived during the Gold Rush Era,” that helped conquer the Klondike, 100 years ago. The dogs get the best care and equipment that the team of veterinarians and mushers can provide them. Pre-race physicals, checkpoint exams and treatment stations at five points along the route, are all required for every dog. Specialized diets are just the start of making sure the canine champions are at peak performance, and any dog that is not is pulled from the race. The dogs must run through extreme conditions, and whether the team arrives in Whitehorse finishing in first place or getting the red lantern, which is awarded to the last place finisher, comes down to how well a musher and his dogs cooperate.

Kathleen McGill, who is this year’s Yukon Quest head veterinarian, has been a trail veterinarian so long that she proudly claims to have “gone from geezer wannabe to actual geezer status,” according to the Yukon Quest website. She relates memories of dancing northern lights, bone deep exhaustion as she serves the needs of mushers and dogs, and the inspiration that comes from working closely with both human and canine athletes.

The Yukon Quest officially started Saturday on Second Ave.

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