Hey, what you doin’ back there? Dobby and Hawk glance back at me as I press down on the brake.
“Steady,” I reassure them, “Steady.” I keep my foot firmly on the brake to stop the sled from taking a tight corner too fast.
Left to their own speed, the dogs would send the sled slipping and sliding into the trees or topple over the snow embankments.
“Easy,” I call out to the team, applying both feet on the brake.
I shift my weight to the right as the dogs race around another corner, bringing the sled up against low lying tree branches. I’m sure they do that on purpose.
We’re out on the Dawson Trail, about half an hour out of Whitehorse in the Yukon, on our last day of our dog sledding trip. We’re following a fraction of the Yukon Quest trail, which takes us through stunning snow-covered scenery. It’s a more leisurely and relaxed ride for the dogs - and us mushers - although we still have to pay attention to the dogs and sled.
“Stay tight Dobby. Kaze, stay tight.” It stops the two lead dogs from running too far apart. I’m sure they’re the only two who listen to me.
Hawk just does his own thing and doesn’t like it when we stop for any reason whatsoever (person off their sled, tricky section coming up, bank up of dogs and sleds).
Alsek is fairly calm and trots along with the team and is generally well behaved.
Tom, on the other hand (a replacement for the highly excitable Sprint) is equally excitable and vocal, jumping up and down whenever the sled has stopped.
Pretty good insight for a non-doggy person.
I constantly shift my weight from one side to the other to counterbalance the sled’s momentum around corners, while holding on (with both hands) and keeping my foot on the brake on the downhill slopes – which the dogs don’t appreciate judging by their regular backward glances.
“Steady,” I say more forcefully. Not that it makes much difference. The dogs equally ignore 'whoa' and 'wait' whenever we come to a stop. In fact, it’s quite an effort to hold them back despite having both feet on both brakes. The dogs’ excitable nature and eagerness to keep running edges the sled forward regardless, often ending up the backside of the sled in front (while the dogs following behind me end up entangled between my legs and sled).
“Kaze! Dobby! Stay.” Well, that worked for about five seconds.
“Good girl, Askel.”
We take off again, the dogs chasing the snowmobile in front of us; they’re happiest when running.
And if you fall off the sled … well the dogs just keep on running until one of the support team catches up with them, while you trudge through the snow to take possession of your sled again (ahem, see below).
Photos courtesy of Glenn Azar, Adventure Professionals
Yukon Quest FAQs
International Sled Dog Race, covering 1,600 km between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska.
The event takes place every February when weather conditions can be the coldest and most unpredictable.
The Yukon Quest Trail crosses frozen rivers and four mountain summits.
The race lasts from 10 to 16 days.
Up to 50 dog teams consisting of one human musher and 14 canine athletes.
Mushers carry mandatory equipment, food and supplies at all times.
Sleds cannot be replaced without penalty, and mushers are not permitted to accept any assistance, except at the half-way point in Dawson City.
All dogs are checked by the race veterinarians and supported by the Yukon Quest Veterinary Program at checkpoints and dog drops throughout the race.
There are nine checkpoints; some separated by more than 200 miles.
Many thanks to Glenn at Adventure Professionals for organising this trip, and to a great bunch of fellow adventurers: Linda, Neil, Valerie, JJ and Ellie.
New Zealand 2008
New Zealand 2006
United Kingdom 2004
Athens Olympics 2004
Beijing to Athens 1994
I acknowledge the traditional Custodians of the land on which I work and live, the Gubbi Gubbi / Kabi Kabi and Joondoburri people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, the waters and sky. I pay my respect to them and their cultures; and to Elders past, present and emerging.
© 2023 HARI KOTROTSIOS