DAWSON CITY – As the Yukon Quest sled race makes its way to Dawson City, it crosses the United States border to finish the second half of the race in Canada.
So it only makes sense that the international race has international participation in the numerous volunteers who bound into Dawson to help at the 36-hour layover
Anticipation grew on Wednesday for the lead mushers to arrive at the halfway checkpoint, where all mushers are required to stay for 36 hours. It is also the only point along the race where the mushers are permitted help from their handlers.
Gaby Sgaga is the Dawson checkpoint manager for the 12th year and has been involved as a volunteer for 19 years.
She is managing a team of 38 volunteering their time to help at the checkpoint and dog yard throughout the layover.
“We’ve done everything we can so far,” Sgaga said Wednesday afternoon.
She spoke as fans and volunteers crowded inside the Visitor Information Centre following the Quest live tracker closely to make sure they didn’t miss the first musher in. (Allen Moore arrived that evening.)
“We have set up the checkpoint itself, we have set up the dog yard and the vet check,” Sgaga said.
“We have everything prepared there for all the mushers and handlers.”
With open water on the Yukon River, for the first time ever, the dog yard is not across the river in West Dawson. Instead, it’s located at an RV Park off Bonanza Road.
“It doesn’t really impact them in that I still staff the vet check, it’s just now a different building,” Sgaga said on how the dog yard relocation affects the set-up.
Sgaga noted the only real change is the location. All the other elements of the dog yard remain the same, with a wood stove and a wall tent now being used for the vet
The work started when the decision was made to relocate the dog yard. Sgaga said she was in close contact with Briana Mackay, the Quest’s assistant race manager.
“We started from ground zero, basically. We’ve never had to deal with that, so we had to think of everything,” Sgaga said of the creation of the new space.
“Where do we put everybody? How do we mark this? Whereas normally with the campground every year, we know what we’re doing.”
The power went out in the checkpoint early Wednesday afternoon as a result of a generator failure in trying to keep the building warm in the near -40 temperatures.
But the energy remained high for the volunteers. They included Ahmed Safyeldin from Cairo, Egypt. Safyeldin has been in Dawson since January taking part in a three-
month film residency.
He is currently working on a mockumentary about the famous sour toe cocktail and when he heard of the opportunity to volunteer with the international race, Safyeldin
jumped at the chance.
“One of the biggest things here is dog sledding,” he said. You hear about it all the time. When we have this opportunity, I went for it.”
Safyeldin was one of nine filmmakers chosen for The Weight of Mountains film residency – a bi-annual three-month journey to a remote environment.
The last residency was held in the Sahara Desert.
Safyeldin spent Wednesday working with another volunteer, Douglas Ramsey from Wyoming, to assist the handlers in getting the food drop bags and straw for the dog
“It’s nice meeting people, and there are people here from around the world,”he said.
Other international volunteers have made their way up to Dawson from Spain, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand.
“It’s quite international and also quite local,”Sgaga said. “It’s about half and half.”
Asked what entices people to volunteer from across the globe, Sgaga said it’s hard to put into words what this race means to people.
“The thought that it’s such a huge challenge. It’s 1,000 miles. You have somebody on the back of a sled isolated for 200 miles on their own in the bush,” Sgaga said.
“These dogs, you look at them and you say, ‘Wow, these are athletes.’ They have just run 500 miles when they get here.
“I burst into tears, actually. I find I’m very moved when they arrive here.”
The checkpoint along the Yukon River opened 24/7 at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
It’s a place for volunteers, race fans and of course the mushers to warm up and refuel.
See more Quest coverage.