By Sheryl Nix, Fort Wainwright PAOFebruary 10, 2011
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - It is difficult to imagine that it all began 28 years ago in a saloon in Fairbanks, but it did. Four mushers walked into a bar and left with a plan to make the dream of a 1,000 mile sled dog race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon, a reality.
Every year since then the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race has drawn participants, spectators, volunteers and fans from around the world.
The grueling race allows a maximum of 50 mushers and their teams to compete for a grand prize of $35,000 and the claim of Yukon Quest champion. Every musher who completes the race receives $1,000.
The Yukon Quest is more than a race to organizers, participants and volunteers. "The 1,000 miles is fairly evenly split between Alaska and the Yukon Territory," said Marti Steury, Yukon Quest Fairbanks executive director. "So we have a way to celebrate our Northern lifestyle regardless of international boundaries. We can continue to live the history that the North is made of."
Since the start and finish lines alternate between the host towns of Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Fort Wainwright community members have the opportunity to view portions of the race at differing stages.
Last year, Soldiers and families were able to get up close and personal on the frozen Chena River with mushers as they began the race and this year they will have the opportunity to see the teams as they finish.
The race began Feb. 5 and early finishers could begin crossing the Chena River between Monday and Tuesday if everything continues to go smoothly, Steury said.
Soldiers and families have a better option than waiting on the icy river all day in hopes of catching a glimpse of the early finishers. For the second year in a row, live tracking of sled dog teams is available off of the Yukon Quest website.
Mushers are equipped with GPS devices allowing online spectators to track everything from teams' almost real-time positions to their current finishing place and location check-in times. Viewers can also see a topographical map detailing the types of terrain mushers and their teams are moving through. Last year there were approximately 1.4 million hits on the race website in 20 days and based on current projections, the tracking software company expects that number to double this year, Steury said.
The race Facebook page has also been very popular, already more than tripling the number of fans from last year. "People are just going nuts because they feel like they're there," she said.
Organizers hope the live tracking will also encourage people to come out and see finishers come into Fairbanks since they will have a good idea of when they will come in. "It will put a lump in your throat and bring a tear to your eyes to see a team go by. I guarantee it," Steury said.
To track the sled dog teams or for more race information, log onto the race website, www.yukonquest.com or the race Facebook page, www.facebook.com/YukonQuest.