After months of hoping and planning. 26 dog teams charged out of the starting gate in Fairbanks for the first run of the Yukon Quest on February 25, 1984.
The Quest originated when Iditarod veteran LeRoy Shank started talking about introducing a different long-distance dog race. Shank and other Iditarod racers were disillusioned by the changing philosophy of the 1,800 kilometre race from Anchorage to Nome.
The Iditarod basically consists of sprints between each of the 23 checkpoints. "We decided that there had to be something for long-distance racing other than the Iditarod." From this idea the Yukon Quest was born.
After much discussion the race route was set. From Fairbanks, it heads north up to Chena Valley to Circle, then follows the Yukon River down past Eagle and Dawson City to Whitehorse. Every second par, the route will be reversed, starting in Whitehorse and finishing in Fairbanks.
The race was not intended to conflict with the Iditarod. Shank said. In fact, the Fairbanks - Whitehorse race wouldn't even have been thought about if it hadn't been for the Anchorage - Nome classic.
The Quest began with seven checkpoints to make it a middle distance race between check-points. It will cost between $4,000 and $10,000 compared with $-$30, 000 required to race the Iditarod, he said.
Quest organizer Bud Smith said this race will be "more like what the old-timers did" with the mushers spending more nights on the trails, going longer periods of time without seeing civilization and they would not be permitted to switch sleds, instead "they'll have to be able to fix it on the way."
A purse of $50,000 to be split among the top 15 finishers in the Quest has been set up. The first place winner will receive $15,000 with the 15th place musher receiving $500.
From the time the Quest started in late February to its finish in March, dog mushers battled blizzards, tough terrain, cold and warm temperatures. Many of them found the first Quest a quest to survive. "It's the toughest challenge that any man or musher will ever try," said race entrant Bob English of Whitehorse, "That's why I'm running it.
Lorrina Mitchell, also of Whitehorse, just wanted to see if she could finish the race. "I think it's a good challenge and I just want to see if I can do it."
By March 9, Sonny Lindner of Johnson River, Alaska had mushed in to Whitehorse to claim first place and the $15,000 prize. This was his first win in a long-distance race (his previous best was second in the 1981 Iditarod) and the biggest payday of his mushing career. His time was 12 days, two hours and six minutes.
In second and third place were Harry Sutherland of Delta Junction, Alaska and Bill Cotter of Nenana, Alaska. Joe Runyan of Tanana, Alaska mushed to fourth place despite leading most of the way to Whitehorse.
The first Canadian across the line was Bruce Johnson of Atlin, B.C. who made a strong surge to move up 10 places in the last three days. He finished sixth overall.