Play Makers: A Salute to the Hardcore

I feel lazy.

I think most of us do – at least the ones who have been following the part brave, part ridiculous winter antics that have been taking place in the territory of late.

Let’s start with the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog race.

For those not familiar, it is the race dubbed “toughest in the world” and that title would be hard to argue.

It sees man or woman lead a team of 10 to 14 dogs the distance between Fairbanks or Whitehorse.

That’s a distance of more than 1,600 kilometres. On top of that, the race is run in February.

That means there is the likelihood that mushers could be faced with temperatures near minus 60, biting winds and relentless snowfall.

Like this year – take veteran musher Hans Gatt’s ordeal this time around.

Waist high in overflow, alone in what no doubt felt like the middle of nowhere, just him and his dogs.

Forced to undress and put on warm clothes and crawl into his sleeping bag all, with the temperature at minus 50 all the while.

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble going out to start my car when it’s minus 30, let alone undressing in minus 50 after falling into water up to my waist.

By the time fellow musher Sebastian Schnuelle comes across him, Gatt is already mildly hypothermic, his hands are badly frostbitten and ice blocks have formed around his feet.

His ice feet would be chiselled away but not before he was scratched from the race.

Gatt’s is just one of the stories: 25 people signed up for the Quest this year.

I am impressed by their drive and courage but admit I can’t fathom what drives them to do such things.

I think of myself as hardcore. Sometimes I’ll even have three Americano in a day. But the chance of me racing in the harsh Yukon winter 1000 miles by sled dog is unlikely.

I certainly have been feeling a little guilty complaining about the cool weather, given the fact mushers and dogs were eating freezing wind and fighting frostbite and other ailments as I wrote this.

Then there is the Yukon Arctic Ultra, the marathon of varied distances that can be done on skis, mountain bike or foot.

Distances vary as well, from standard marathon to an astonishing 700 kilometres to Dawson City – also done in February.

This year 72 participants signed on, including 20 planning to run all the way to the Klondike.

I personally have trouble shuffling down Main Street in my Sorels and thick winter coat, let alone running in these conditions.

Don’t get me wrong: I like to exercise and be healthy, but the more I follow these extreme winter challenges the lazier I feel.

Should I strip off my parka and race up Grey Mountain, or jump into the Yukon River in an attempt to fit in?

Of course not, but I can’t help feeling … well, a little lazy.

And the Quest and Arctic Ultra athletes are just some of the “hardcores” around here.

There are the world record kite skiers, the paddlers who go from Whitehorse to Dawson, the solo Kluane to Chilkat cyclists, and the “ride to work in the winter” bikers .

The list goes on.

If this is you, I salute you.

The Yukon is known primarily for the Gold Rush, particularly the epic journey so many endured to reach Dawson and hopefully strike it rich – hiking the Chilkoot, building rafts, tackling the rapids of Miles Canyon, many unsuccessfully.

And while the face of the territory has changed significantly since, with cafés on every block and new condos being built by the day, it is still a place that attracts the tough, determined adrenaline-fuelled hardcore.

To you, I raise my Americano and say Well Done.

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