The 2012 running of the Yukon Quest will launch in Fairbanks on Saturday, February 4. There's a countdown clock on the Quest website (http://yukonquest.com) indicating the number of days, hours and minutes until the race begins.
Sometime within the three to five days after that (depending on the race conditions), the first of the 24 registered dog teams will arrive in Dawson City, the midway point for the race.
The teams must take a mandatory 36-hour stop here before pushing on to Whitehorse, so teams will be arriving and leaving for several days after the first one hits town.
To staff, both the checkpoint in the Visitor Information Centre (VIC) and the Vet Shack in the YTG campground across the river require a minimum of 25 volunteers. Recruiting, organizing and assigning them is the task of long-time Quest volunteer Gaby Sgaga.
Preparation in advance of the race keeps everything from becoming a madhouse. Volunteers will number the campsites across the river with the bib numbers of the teams.
"It used to be that people would race here to get the best campsites and they were going off the road and it was crazy, so now we assign places based on bib numbers," Sgaga explains.
The day after the race begins, the food truck arrives in Dawson and the stores for the teams have to be organized. In addition, the checkpoint needs to be set up with tables and chairs.
During the race it will be filled with people resting, checking in with the laptop computers and waiting for their teams to arrive.
The checkpoint itself opens on February 7 in order to be available for the handlers, who arrive in advance of the racers and remain in operation until the last team has left town.
"The racers tend to get here within four days, but I've had them earlier, so you never know," saysSgaga.
Race history seems to indicate that the Whitehorse-Dawson leg is faster that the Fairbanks-Dawson leg, but a lot depends on the weather.
Sgaga, who maintains her own dog team, began volunteering for the Quest almost as soon as she arrived in Dawson.
"I did it my first winter in '99 and have been ever since," she says.
A half-dozen volunteers turned out for her organizational meeting at the VIC on January 19. It was a cold night and static-filled hair wafted above people's heads as they pulled off their caps. These people got the first crack at selecting their volunteer placement on the schedule.
"There have been people contacting me from out of town too, but I wanted to give locals the first pick," Sgaga told the group.
She says the response for volunteering has been good again this year.
In addition to placing Quest volunteers, she also collects names to help staff the food concession in the VIC's audio-visual room. It is run each year by the Percy de Wolfe Committee, and is a major fundraiser for the Percy de Wolfe Memorial Dog Sled Race, which is held later in March.
The arrival of the Quest really marks the end of Dawson's quiet season, if there can actually be said to be one.
After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.