On Wednesday, I began a Yukon Quest tour – based around the Yukon Quest sled dog race, but with other winter activities in Whitehorse, Skagway, Haines and Dawson City. Organized by Journeys by Jerry Van Dyke, it will take a group of 16 people, mostly from Ontario, from Whitehorse to Skagway and Haines and then to Dawson City for 3 nights during the race’s mandatory 36-hour layover.
Over the past few days I’d gotten a lot of gear ready for the group, and had our 2 vans and luggage trailer at the Whitehorse airport for their arrival at 3:05 Wednesday afternoon. It was a superb day to start showing off the territory!
Our first outing was the Yukon Quest’s Meet the Mushers event at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre on Wednesday evening. There was a great turnout, and wonderful energy to start this exciting tour off on the right foot. Getting all the mushers to sign a program or poster was a big part of that event for many. All of our guests sponsored a musher of their choice, and all joined the 1,000 Mile Club, which, for $350, includes a special Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile Club jacket. This is not a superficial look at the race, we’re getting right into it 🙂
While the mushers met their fans inside, the business of taking care of the dogs continued outside in the parking lot with the temperature at -34°C (-29°F). The volunteer dog handlers are a huge part of this race.
We spent a few hours seeing Whitehorse on Thursday. Our final stop was the Yukon Transportation Museum, which opened up for us, and gave the folks a good look at how people got around the territory in days past, including seeing the importance of dogs in that.
The airplane hanging in the main exhibit hall is a replica of a Ryan B-1 monoplane called “Queen of the Yukon”. She was sister ship to the “Spirit of St. Louis” that Charles Lindbergh used for the first non-stop transatlantic flight in 1927. The original “Queen of the Yukon” was destroyed in a crash at Whitehorse on May 5, 1928.
On Thursday night, we joined over 400 other people at the Yukon Quest Start Banquet. This is when the starting positions and bib numbers are pulled. Of course, the dogs are close by and well taken care of.
This group of young fiddlers, members of Fiddleheads, entertained us with some great music before the bib draws. Journeys by Jerry Van Dyke sponsored bib #3, which was drawn by Normand Casavant, a 51-year-old Yukon Quest veteran from Whitehorse.
On Friday, we were scheduled to go dog sledding on Lake Laberge with Cathers Adventures. That despite this weather forecast and many comments online about staying inside and keeping pets indoors!
Arctic gear had been rented for each of our guests to make this adventure possible. Here, well-dressed Ned Cathers stands by to assist in the fairly lengthy process of getting prepared.
Practise makes getting heavy gear on much quicker, so I had lots of time to take photos as well as assisting with boots in particular 🙂
While the humans got ready, 24 patient huskies waited for us. I went down and livened things up by doing my best husky howl, which almost every one of the dogs was happy to join in! 🙂
After the choir practice, there was time for a bit more relaxation before the excitement really started.
The final countdown to getting out on the lake.
The rest of the dogs and sleds arrive from Cathers’ base on the opposite side of the lake.
Let’s go!!!! 🙂
The thrill of starting across the lake is incredible. The dogs were so noisy as we got ready, and as soon as they started working, there wasn’t not a sound, it was all business. We had one person driving each team and one person on the sled bundled up in sleeping bags. After our lunch stop, we’d switch places for the return. I drove the outgoing leg. I love working with the dogs, cuddling the ones who want it before and after a run, (a few don’t, and that’s okay), and talking to them as we travelled along at an easy 8-10 mph pace. We had one little guy in our team who kept looking back as if to be sure that he was doing it right, and I was happy to yell to him that he was doing “Good Work!” 🙂
The last mile or so before our lunch stop in a sheltered bay was bitterly cold as we were going directly into a strong northwest wind – the wind chill might have been even lower than the forecast -44. But I didn’t hear any complaints – everyone seemed to love the adventure.
A broad shot of our camp, taken after I helped a couple of dogs who had gotten tangled in their lines so badly they couldn’t lay down.
Jeremy Van Dyke took care of one of the first camp duties, settling up a toilet in a private spot off in the forest. How to actually use it at these temperatures was a common topic of conversation for a while 🙂
One of the Cathers crew started a fire…
…while the dogs curled up to keep warm and rest.
A bit of foot care being taken care of by an expert.
Frosty and happy 🙂 A few people have told me that they had family and friends tell them that they were nuts to come on this trip – nobody yet has said that their family and friends were right!
A gourmet kitchen, Yukon style. Hot dogs and smokies cooked over an open fire, with hot chocolate and hot apple cider to wash it down. I would like to do it again today, but there’s a race starting at 11!
It was the dogs who decided that it was time to get going again. Listen to them in this short video!
The teams were started out with good spacing – to me it really enhances the experience to not have anyone else really close.
Seeing their pack-mates going got many of the others really excited.
By the time we got back to the parking lot, most people were really tired, but a bit of teamwork soon got everyone into our warm vans for the drive back to the city. As we pulled away, the dogs and crew were heading back across the lake to their base.
I told some of my guests that I’d post this last night but I was too tired, and just had a glass of wine with Cathy and went to bed early.
Today is the event of the tour – the start of the Yukon Quest at 11:00 at Shipyards Park in downtown Whitehorse. We’ll be at the start line by about 9:30, and it looks like it’s going to be sunny and about -31°C (-24°F) for the start – pretty much perfect.