Endurance, dedication and the ability to perform in extreme conditions are all hallmarks of great athletes. Participants in the Yukon Quest, a 1,000 mile race through some of the most extreme territory on Earth, sport a few additional traits — notably, they are all covered in a warm fur coat and run the route on four paws.
That’s because the Yukon Quest is a dog sled race.
The 2015 Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race now underway gets its name from the “highway of the north” — the Yukon River and the historical winter land routes traveled by prospectors, adventurers and mail and supply carriers traveling between the gold fields of the Klondike and those in the Alaska interior.
From the start in Whitehorse, Yukon to the victorious finish in Fairbanks, Alaska, the dogs are the true stars of the race. The mushers become loyal servants to their four-legged racers. According to the Yukon Quest official website, mushers become “coaches, cooks, cheerleaders, and companions” to these unique, elite athletes that descend from canines that survived and thrived during the Gold Rush Era. Veterinarian pit-stops help ensure the dogs are in top-notch condition during the long race.
According to the official race website, the idea for the Yukon Quest started as a friendly conversation among four mushers at the Bull’s Eye Saloon in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1983. These mushers envisioned an international race to commemorate the Yukon River, which was the historical highway of the north. The trail would trace the routes that the prospectors followed to reach the Klondike during the 1898 Gold Rush and from there to the Alaskan interior for subsequent gold rushes in the early years of the 1900s.
Some worry for the future of the race. Unfrozen portions of the Yukon River due to unseasonably warm temperatures concern some mushers, who fear these long-distance races may end if frigid winter temperatures become a thing of the past.