Yukon North Of Ordinary

Sports archive for January 20, 2014

Food drop kicks off Quest festivities

With the 31st edition of the Yukon Quest on the horizon, mushers kicked things into high gear on Saturday.

By Marcel Vander Wier on January 20, 2014 at 2:38 pm

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Photo by Marcel Vander Wier

PRE-RACE TRADITION – Whitehorse musher Normand Casavant passes bags to volunteers Saturday during the food drop in Whitehorse. Mushers are busy preparing for the 31st annual Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race (top). PILING UP THE BAGS – Volunteer Carl Pearce helps unload musher Brian Wilmshurst’s bags of dog food at Kluane Freight Lines’ warehouse in Whitehorse Saturday.

With the 31st edition of the Yukon Quest on the horizon, mushers kicked things into high gear on Saturday.

Canadian mushers gathered at the Kluane Freight Lines warehouse in the industrial area of the Yukon capital to drop off bags stuffed with frozen meat and supplies for the Yukon Quest trail.

The 1,600-km international sled dog race gets underway Feb. 1 in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Five Canadians, including three Yukoners, are expected to take part in the annual race.

The pre-race food drop is one of the most important events for a musher prior to their odyssey across the Great White North, said assistant race manager Gaetan Pierrard.

“I think it’s an important day for mushers,” he told the Star. “It’s a lot of work cutting meat and packing everything. An experienced musher will probably have worked on it from the start, so it’s not a big job for them, but it’s probably more stressful for the new guys.”

The bags contain a variety of meats to help fuel the dogs along the race route. Beef, chicken, horse, and moose meat are common, while beaver is also a top choice amongst sled dogs.

“Beaver is the top one,” Pierrard explained. “When you’re trying to get interest back into your dogs for eating, beaver works great.”

Once unloaded, each musher’s bags were labelled and piled on pallets bound for different checkpoint destinations. The pallets are then piled into a refrigerated trailer alongside hundreds of bales of straw, and are shipped in advance to the checkpoints along the Quest trail.

While meat and fresh booties for their dogs’ feet are the main ingredient in the bags, mushers also need to think of themselves.

“Mushers have to think about spare socks and food for themselves,” said Pierrard.

The bags are the source for much of their race supplies through the Alaska and Yukon wilderness. If extra meat is left over, it is often donated to the community hosting the checkpoint, while non-perishable supplies are returned to the musher post-race.

There is no penalty for extra bags left at a checkpoint.

Normand Casavant, the top Yukon musher in last year’s Quest, dropped 52 bags off in Whitehorse Saturday.

“It’s a lot of bags,” the 51-year-old admitted. “I’m a little bit crazy this year, but I always follow my feelings.”

To compensate for warmer temperatures this year, Casavant said he added copious amounts of kibble to his sled dogs’ race menu.

“My only concern this year is the weather,” he said. “It’s looked weird this year, so I decided to put more fish, more kibble. If I need to add water, I’d be happy to. I just want to be sure that they drink a lot during the race.”

With weather rising above zero degrees Celsius last week and expected to stay in the -5 range this week, Casavant said he isn’t sure what to expect on the trail this time around.

“It’s not really hard on the musher, weather like that,” he said. “Where I’m concerned is all the places that could be dangerous.”

The musher said he has faith in the Canadian Rangers’ ability to break a solid trail, as well as in the race judges and marshal to adjust the route for safety reasons if necessary. 

Now that the stress of the food drop is out of the way, Casavant said he needs to spend some time taking care of himself.

Casavant has been struggling recently with a case of shingles – a painful skin rash that has hampered his training.

“My leg was really sore the last three weeks, so I just need to relax,” he said. “So that’s my goal. Do some small little training runs and after that, relax.

“I think I did a good training,” he added. “Not a perfect one ... I have close to 2,000 miles. My goal was to have 2,500 miles this year, but I don’t think I will have that. But it’s OK. My dogs are veteran dogs and they are happy. I will let them show me what they’re capable of.”

As for how the pain caused by shingles may affect him during the race, Casavant’s is approaching it like a Canadian.

“I have a race to do so I have to keep going,” he said. “I’m sure I will have other problems. My back will be sore, maybe my fingers ... but I have a race to do, so that is my focus. The rest is a part of the game.”

Next up on the Yukon Quest pre-race schedule is the vet check. Sled dogs will receive their examinations Saturday morning at the Northerm Windows and Doors warehouse located in Hillcrest.

By MARCEL VANDER WIER
Star Sports Editor

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