“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn.” – Jack Kerouac
I’m off to the lower 48 now, after a big couple of weeks. I’ve had a few days of needed rest in Fairbanks…and all I did was handle. There are 14 mushers and hundreds of dogs resting up after 1,000 miles on the trail, and there are still 13 teams out there now. There’s a reason that the Yukon Quest is called the hardest race in the world.
As I head home, I’ll close out this year’s blog with a few random thoughts.
- Things that I thought would happen that didn’t: extended and bitter cold (it was really only cold for a few days at the start), snowy travel (we only dealt with weather on Eagle Summit), crappy internet (I was shut out in Circle, 101, and Two Rivers, not bad for the Quest trail), brilliant northern lights (we only had a few glimpses, not like years past).
- Things that I didn’t expect: an emergency vet visit in the middle of the race, a stunning rebound from Salcha, good sleep in a dog truck, plowing through drifts on Eagle Summit, a flat tire in Circle, Matt clawing his way back into the top five after a tough start, Bourbon emptying his bladder on my parka, Nate discovering my empty chocolate wrappers in the trashcan at the start (they were supposed to be snacks for the trail, but what can I say?).
I love that the unexpected things outnumbered the expected ones; that’s part of what makes a good adventure. And As for Matt running himself back into the race, I’m reminded of a Jack London quote: “Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.” And that he did.
I always leave this race with a strong appreciation for the mushers and the dogs, and for the people around the Quest–but also with a renewed appreciation for the rugged wild of the Yukon. The Yukon itself is a remarkable place, perhaps one of the last wild places on this earth. Robert Service wrote a poem more than a hundred years ago called “The Spell of the Yukon” that includes the following passage:
From the big, dazzling mountains that screen it
To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it; Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some who would trade it
For no land on earth, and I’m one.
In addition to the incredible canine athletes, I always appreciate being around the mushers, handlers, race officials, vets, and the fans, too. And I’m also inspired by the people in these remote communities that not only tolerate the tough conditions but seem to thrive in them.
The Quest is just a little snapshot of their winter, of course, and I can’t claim to understand the day in and day out…but I saw enough to get a sense of things.
A few quick examples of life up here: there was a sign in the school in Circle that said it was a parent’s prerogative to keep their child home any time it was colder than 50 below (!), and kids were out on the playground in Dawson in weather that would have closed schools in a lot of places. I know these temps are old hat to my friends in Alaska and the Yukon–but it’s always eye-opening for a city kid from “Outside.” For context, I was dressed like an out of shape REI catalogue model…and I was whimpering.
As for my role up here, it was a privilege to be able to play a small part in Matt’s race, and I’m thankful for the opportunity. I learned a lot from Amanda, Nate, and Matt, and I especially appreciated how they took care of Salcha (Matt’s ailing dog). It was such a lift to have her with us throughout the race.
As I type this during my flight to Seattle, the guy next to me is complaining about the internet speed. I half-listened and nodded, but what comes to mind is that I don’t think I heard anybody complain at any point during the Quest. Things didn’t go perfectly for anybody up here—but there’s a can-do attitude across everybody associated with the race, and across the communities themselves.
I want bring that attitude back home with me. I need to bring that back home with me. Everyone had a different race experience up here; perhaps that’s my Quest?