If it did this would be a very short post.
I wanted to use this blog to talk about what happens when the musher arrives at the mid point of the race and has to take his mandatory 36 hour break. This is where the handlers’ role comes into its own and they really have the opportunity to take over the care of the dogs from the musher for a few hours while he rests. Its also an opportunity for the dogs to rest in a nice warm tent on lots of lovely straw for a few hours.
The handlers’ work starts some time before the musher actually arrives. The first task is to collect our straw from the supply at the visitor centre and to transport it over to the dog yard.
The next job is then to get over to the camp across the ice bridge and to unpack the inordinate amount of kit that you need in Dawson to look after the team and the handlers.
The trip across to the camp is normally a fairly straightforward drive over the several feet thick thick packed ice on the Yukon river. This year that was made somewhat more difficult. Problems downstream from debris causing damming meant that there was still flowing open water at the point where the river is normally frozen thick and sprayed and treated to make the ice bridge. Therefore this year the teams would have to make a five kilometre detour up river to a place where there was full river ice to cross. This involved joining the river at the normal point but then driving two kilometres alongside the open water to a point almost outside of Dawson where you finally turn right and cross and then turn right again and travel two kilometres back to the point opposite where you joined the river in the first place. This was initially unnerving but got more so as holes formed in the road and, whilst travelling it in the truck was not too bad, in the car it was distinctively uncomfortable. The view though was spectacular as always. In the picture below you can see the open water between the road up and the road back to the camp.
Once the kit is all loaded the handler’s tent has to be erected and then the dogs’ shelter has to be built. This is essentially a long tunnel of tarpaulin with six bales of straw underneath for the dogs to rest on. Then we have to lay out drop lines to secure the team both inside the shelter and outside for feeding, vet checks and other important business.
We have heaters then to warm the handlers’ tent (didn’t work this year) and a gas water boiler to make feeding a little bit easier.
That’s all done. It’s time to wait for Rob. Despite his incredible run this year it was still quite a long wait for him to arrive at 9:30 on Wednesday evening. He had an even more difficult journey to the dog yard across the ice bridge but once there the dogs were fed and bedded down, sled was unpacked and musher went to his bed back in Dawson. There was then a regime of massages and foot treatment for most of the team, regular feeds outside on the drop lines and walks for those that needed it. The vets also collect samples at this time for drug testing (on the dogs, not the musher). Getting a dog to pee in a sample jar is quite an art.
The sled and the emptied bags and gear then go to The Royal Canadian Mounted Police depot on the edge of town where it can be dried out ready for the second half of the race.
When Rob goes for his rest there is always one of the handlers at the camp with the dogs. Chris and James somehow bagged both the night shifts at the dog camp but Louise and I got the very long day on Thursday. It is a great pleasure to spend time with the team. As I’ve said before they are all lovely dogs. This year the key focus was foot treatment for Bering who had sore cracked pads and wrist massage for some of the leaders. Whilst most of the team were in very good shape, Lady had come into season at the start of the race and we struggled to get her to eat or drink. Both because of that and the impact she was having on the young boys in the team Rob was to decide to leave her with the handlers when he left Dawson.
All too soon that comes to an end and its time to repack the sled and get out of Dawson. With a 9:30pm arrival Rob had a sociable 9:30am restart time on Friday morning. And he was away.
The next stage of the job is then to break down the camp and clear the straw. Even with four of us this year that’s still a big task. Taking everything down and carefully packing it in to the truck takes some time. Then we have to rake up six bales of straw. But having four lots of hands definitely make it a little easier. When its finished you have to go and get lunch to celebrate. Then, its the long road to Whitehorse and back to Fairbanks and Circle. The Alaskan leg of the Quest starts here.