Twenty-five mushers from around the world are attempting the 32nd Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile Sled Dog Race, the toughest sled dog race on the planet.
The race starts on Feb. 6, from Fairbanks, Alaska, following the Yukon River into Whitehorse, Yukon.
The purse is split among the top 10 finishers.
Returning are American veterans Hugh Neff, Allen Moore, Cody Strathe, Robe Cooke and Brent Sass, as well as Canadian veterans Rob Cooke and Ed Hopkins.
Eleven out of the 25 are rookies.
Dawson City, the halfway point in the race, is one of the three mandatory vet checks, and the first musher to check in there will win an ounce of gold.
The teams will follow the Yukon riverbank, come up on Front Street to the checkpoint, where their bags and dogs are checked over, before heading to the West Side of the river, where the dogs will sleep in the campground.
Gaby Sgaga is the checkpoint manager. She is excited about the upcoming race.
“I like the people. I like the dogs, of course, because I am a musher,” says Sgaga. “I like the camaraderie – being part of something that is bigger than yourself.”
She takes running the checkpoint with visible pride. There, she works with people who come from all corners of the globe to volunteer for the event.
Last year there were 40 volunteers working the Dawson checkpoint.
“I love the whole feeling of family atmosphere and bringing new people into the family,” says Sgaga.
She says she got her first email for volunteer interest in October.
Nine people in Dawson turned out to the checkpoint volunteers’ meeting on Jan. 20 in the Visitor’s Information Centre. This building will be transformed into the main hub of activity while the Quest is on.
Computers will be set up for race followers to track the mushers, the media will crowd the round tables brought in from Diamond Tooth Gerties’ Gambling Hall, handlers and observers will mill about, eating homemade cookies and sipping coffee and canned milk from Styrofoam cups.
The volunteers will be checking the dogs into the checkpoint, and then checking them out from the campground following a 36-hour layover.
The checkpoint shifts are around the clock in an eight-hour rotation, for three days or sometimes more. (The fastest race finish time was set by Allen Moore last year, at 8 days, 14 hours and 21 minutes.) The mushers will trickle in at all hours of the day and night, one after another, or with great lapses of time between them.
Working at the checkpoint is “quite fun if you like that lively feeling,” Sgaga tells the turnout of volunteers.
Anna Claxton, who is the organizer of the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Race concession stand during the Yukon Quest, enters the Jan. 20 meeting and leans across the glass-covered wooden counter in the VIC, eager to solicit volunteers to her stand.
The Percy DeWolfe concession proceeds will go towards that race, which takes place on March 24.
The concession is known for its rich, home-made stews, soups, curries and chilis, and an array of baked goods donated by members of the Dawson community.
“The hot ‘n’ sour soup – if you don’t get it quick, it’s gone!” laughs Claxton.