Photo by Whitehorse Star
The Whitehorse Star, 1999 Yukon Quest
Strange, Tragic and Funny Tidbits from the '99 Quest Trail.
John Schandelmeier joked during the mushers' banquet in Fairbanks before the Yukon Quest that he'd be carrying medical gear on top of his sled.
His team was injured after a string of horrible accidents while training for the Quest.
"It just happens that I had 10 years' worth of bad accidents in one year,” Schandelmeier said in an interview.
Earlier this winter, Schandelmeier and his team were hit by a truck, injuring two dogs. The second accident saw a pair of dogs die when his team crashed through ice.
The week before the race, Schandelmeier had two more accidents. The most recent was while driving to Fairbanks from his home in Paxson, Alaska, and his dog truck collided with another vehicle.
"(The other driver) hit us and he went into the ditch and we didn't. So we had to stop and wait three hours for him until we could get some help and get him out of the ditch,” said Schandelmeier, adding that he nor any of the dogs were hurt.
The bad luck struck again several days before the Quest began on Feb. 13. He was on his final run with a full team when the two-time Quest champion and his team were attacked by a moose, injuring several dogs.
Sepp Hermann also had a tragic encounter while training for the Quest. A grizzly bear attacked and killed eight dogs last November.
The Alaskan musher from Goldstream Valley considered dropping out from the Quest, but an outpouring of support encouraged him to stay in. He picked up dogs from different kennels and put a team together.
Early in the race, Hermann said his new crew weren't working well together. But after a few days, they began to gel.
This year's race didn't start very smoothly for musher Wayne Curtis, of Wasilla, Alaska.
The beginning of the race in Fairbanks was a little disorganized this year. When Curtis got to the start line, he thought he had two minutes to wait until he left. He went to check his dogs and the 10-second countdown to leave started.
Curtis managed to rush back and hop on the sled before his wife, Chris, (who was sitting on the back of the sled) could get off, and they both started to leave together.
When his wife tried to jump off, she accidentally knocked down her husband. Wayne Curtis grabbed the snow hook line on the sled and was dragged several metres until people in the crowd stopped his dogs.
Curtis and his wife were embarrassed but not hurt.
Sometimes, mushers have to make sacrifices.
German sprint mushing champion Petra Noelle, racing a long-distance event for the first time, is learning to live without the necessities. At one point along the trail, she took her hairspray out of the sled and left it behind at the checkpoint.
Many Quest mushers discovered the meat in their food bags spoiled at checkpoints in Central and Circle, Alaska.
According to Quest head veterinarian Richard Long, the problem stemmed from a food drop done several weeks ago, before the race started.
Mushers pre-pack their food, and Quest officials are responsible for delivering it to checkpoints along the trail. Soldiers from Fort Wainwright were delivering the meat to the checkpoints when mechanical problems forced the delivery truck into a warm garage for repairs. When the meat was discovered in the back, it was moved outside - but not before it partially thawed out.
Many mushers – including front-runners Kris Swanguarin, Frank Turner, Peter Butteri and Thomas Tetz – were among mushers to find spoiled meat in their food bag.
"It's really bad, and I complained,” said Tetz, of Tagish. "All of my meat is frozen and melted together.”
The Angel Creek Lodge, the first official checkpoint along the Quest trail, wasn't a very heavenly place to stay this year.
An Alaska state liquor rule that doesn't allow people to sleep in bars, and no designated sleeping area by Quest officials, surprised many mushers who didn't have a warm place to rest overnight.
The checkpoint is merely one isolated lodge with a few cabins. In past years, the place was famous for cramming everybody into the small restaurant/bar, including people trying to sleep anywhere – on the floors and under the pool tables.
This year, the staff weren't permitting the mushers nor handlers to sleep in the lodge because of the new rule. Any musher seen trying to doze off would be awakened with a tap on the shoulder. At least one musher told a staff member to "F--k off” after being constantly awakened.
There are a few cabins at the lodge but they were all rented out. In other years, the Quest has had a cabin for mushers to sleep and dry out their clothes, but there wasn't one available this year for unknown reasons.
With no designated sleeping area, race rules state that people aren't allowed to sleep in lodges and must sleep outside on their sleds. It is considered receiving "outside assistance”, and self-suffienciency is a fundamental principle of the Yukon Quest. Mushers spent the night out on their sleds or attempting to stay awake.
Hallucinations are common for mushers in the Quest because of physical exhaustion and a lack of sleep. But not too many hallucinations are X-rated.
Dawson City musher Peter Ledwidge was riding trails between Central and Circle when his team of dogs changed into, uhmm, a part of the female anatomy. "The best part,” he specified.
He also saw a plane flying over his head, coming in for a landing.
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