1983 Yukon Nuggets
One thing is certain about Yukon Quest mushers: they respect their dogs. We all love our dogs, of course, but respect in a race like the Quest is key to success. When this respect is returned, the team of musher and dogs is complete. A sage once said that money will buy a pretty good dog, but it won’t buy the wag of his tail. If American humourist of the 1930s Will Rogers had been covering the Yukon Quest, he would quickly notice the bond between musher and dog. Rogers once accurately observed that if you are thinking you’re a person of some influence, try ordering someone else’s dog around.
The Yukon quest is as much about human-animal teamwork as it is about winning. Mark Twain, a colourblind humanitarian who wrote so eloquently about people of different racial backgrounds, was wise enough to note that if you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, his will not bite you. That is the principal difference between a dog and a man. Yes, the Yukon Quest is really a dog show. It began in 1983, as a dream of mushers and a Fairbanks saloon called The Bulllseye, and was dedicated to the vision of gold seekers, mail carriers, trappers and traders, all who knew the value of a good dog team. In the early days of the far off land good dogs were the difference between a life fulfilled, and a wasted youth. In the early days, Northerners learned quickly that dogs were their best friends – they learned it, or they failed. American President Woodrow Wilson said with much wisdom if a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.
The first Yukon Quest in 1984 tested both race, logistics and talent, as 26 teams left Fairbanks. At the races end, 1600km later, 20 teams crossed the finish line in Whitehorse. Sonny Linder became the first Quest champion, completing the race in 12 days and 5 minutes, and winning the $15,000 prize money. The purse soon grew to $25,000, as the race began to attract big-name sponsors and worldwide attention. Today, $30,000 goes to the winner, but most mushers will tell you they’re not in it for the money. The first Canadian to win the race was Bruce Johnson of Atlin in 1986. In 1984 Lorrina Mitchell was the first woman to finish the race. The fastest race was run in 1995 with Frank Turner’s winning time of 10 days, 16 hours, and 18 minutes. The longest time to finish and win was Bruce Johnson’s run of 14 days, 9 hours, and 17 minutes. But in a race of this magnitude records don’t mean much because conditions differ greatly from year to year. What doesn’t change is one the Quest’s main objectives, and that is commemorate the historic dependence of man and sled dog for mutual survival in extreme conditions, and to perpetrate mankind’s concern for his canine companion’s continued health, welfare, and development.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.