Klondike Korner: Handling the Quest is a Fine Tuned Operation

No matter how many words I log here to the contrary, it seems impossible to shake the impression that Dawson City goes to sleep when the tourists leave and, like bears in winter hibernation, only stirs when something happens to disturb its slumber.

If you lived here you’d realize that the schedule can get pretty crowded.

Nevertheless, the accounts of visiting reporters here during the Yukon Quest invariably give the impression that our sleepy town has lurched to life just because they happened to arrive.

One thing is true: the Visitor Information Centre (VIC) has been largely empty for months by the time the Yukon Quest handlers and media groupies begin to arrive one or two days after the race begins.

What’s Up Yukon’s own GabrielaSgaga has been busily organizing her volunteer crew for many weeks before this and will run on an absolute minimum of sleep during the week that the VIC is Dawson Quest Central. She’s been a Quest volunteer since 1999.

At the volunteer sign up meeting this year Gaby told my wife, Betty, who loves to donate time to this event, that she’d had way more people signing up than usual.

Things were ready in plenty of time for the actual teams, even though they were a day (at first) and then half another day, ahead of when they were supposed to arrive.

The dog yard was ready in the Government Campground across the Yukon River. Volunteers were assigned there to help the vet crew, or trained to assist at the finish line in front of the VIC.

The chute through which the teams pulled up to the big Yukon Quest banner in order to have all their gear checked before settling their dogs was about 15 metres from the Klondike Sun’s front door in the Waterfront Building and by Wednesday we could no longer use our parking space when delivering our latest edition around the town.

Inside the VIC the tables were crowded with reporters and race watchers, many of them glued to their laptops, watching the live tracking of the teams and making sure their cameras were ready when the next one rolled along the top of the dike trail, moving like a slow locomotive before the dogs dropped down onto Front Street and the glare of the musher’s headlamp resolves into a team and sled in the twilight.

The room would empty in seconds when someone stepped inside to warn of an approaching team.

While waiting, folks could avail themselves of a variety of hot food and snacks from the concession table run by the Percy DeWolfe Committee, which uses this activity as a fund raiser for its own race, the one that will wrap up the mushing season in late March.

The food is first rate, though the ambience of the overheated bodies in too many layers of clothing permeates the VIC and tempts a person to bring some air freshener along. It would be a great place for one of those blindfold scent commercials that are so popular right now.

The pace increases from Tuesday to Thursday as the teams trickle in. Usually it’s a 36 mandatory layover at the midpoint here, but this year complications on the American side of the trail added another four hours to the stay and kept the VIC in business just a bit longer.

By the weekend it was time to put the tables away, take down the arrival chute and — heh! — go back to sleep for a few weeks until the snowmobiles arrive from Tok.

After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.

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