Alex Olesen has been around dogs his whole life. Growing up in Fairbanks, his family owned a team of sled dogs.
“I remember sitting in the basket getting peppered by the snow and ice off their feet and hoping they didn’t crap on the fly.”
His father, Lee Olesen, was one of the first judges for the Yukon Quest in 1984 and remained involved with the Quest in one way or another until his death in 2003.
“I think my Dad saw in this race the opportunity to bring so many of the aspects of Northern culture and history and future together in one big sled-dog race.
“It’s so many things to so many people and places, and it works.
“It’s a community event in the towns it passes through; it’s a race watched by fans worldwide and it’s a place for dog mushers to come and do what they love to do.”
He admits that he sees his Dad’s vision through his own lens. “But I know that he saw in this race the opportunity to put on the best long-distance sled-dog race in the world.”
After having been the Alaska logistics co-ordinator for the race, Alex is now on the Yukon side – handling the logistics for us. The sled dog teams take off from downtown Whitehorse on Saturday, Feb. 14, at 11 a.m.
He knows his Dad would have been pleased that he is still a part of the Quest.
Hired three years ago for Whitehorse, Olesen had been living for most of the year in Fairbanks, Alaska, managing the Yukon logistics side from there and then coming and spending a few weeks in Whitehorse. But soon he saw the need to move to Whitehorse for six months of the year.
“I may have been able to do a patchwork job from Fairbanks, but so much of the way that the Yukon Quest works is by personal contacts.
“This race doesn’t make logical sense. It makes emotional sense.
“It’s an awesome thing what these dogs and mushers are doing and it inspires me and a lot of other people to help put this race on.
“If I wasn’t here in person, I couldn’t meet the other fans of the race in Whitehorse and maybe not as many people would help as when I meet them face to face and we figure out that we have a common interest in this great race.
“This race brings together all kinds of great characters and I am glad to be meeting a whole new cast of them. The ‘Colourful Five Percent’ is a great term for it and we don’t use that term in Alaska.
“Closest thing I can come up with is bush rat.”
Well, I couldn’t help but ask him what he thought of Whitehorse. I mean, that’s my thing.
And he was American, so I wanted to know what another American thought about Whitehorse.
He called it “a small, young northern city”.
“It’s smaller than Fairbanks, with a more visible international presence. It’s a lot more comfortable with itself.”
One of the first things he remembers about Whitehorse, that still leaves an impression on him, was that people actually stopped so you could cross the street. “It still blows my mind.”
It’s now nearly race time and Olesen spends long hours getting everything ready.
This weekend he received all the dog food, gear and personal food that each musher needs at the checkpoints. Since a similar event was happening in Fairbanks, Olesen and his Fairbanks counterparts are sending loads back and forth on Lynden Transport trucks.
“I’ve sent all of the supplies dropped in Whitehorse that need to go to Alaskan checkpoints and now they will do the same with the Fairbanks loads that need to end up at Yukon checkpoints.
“Then we have to distribute all of those loads to all of the checkpoints with other necessary supplies. There is a list a mile long of things to do in the 11 days before the race.”
Well, I can see a race 1,000 miles earning a list a mile long.
If you see Olesen, give him a warm welcome and encourage him to stay longer in our small Northern city.
Yep, he’s right. We are comfortable with ourselves here. We’re also comfortable bringing in more people to live with us who already share our joys and passions.
We like that – as if somehow there was a Yukoner born a long, long way from home.
Jerome Stueart chose this city on purpose. Maybe you did, too. He’d like to hear from you. Write to him at email@example.com.