Mushers' supplies becoming more compact in Yukon Quest sled dog race

Posted: Monday, January 28, 2008

FAIRBANKS - A single moving van awaited hundreds of woven plastic bags Saturday that contain mushers' supplies for the 25th Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

There used to be three.

"I'm sure they didn't fill three 40-foot vans, but they had to use three 40-foot vans," Quest logistics coordinator Alex Olesen said from Summit Logistics off Van Horn Road.

So why the dramatic change in goods sent to checkpoints between Fairbanks and Whitehorse for the 1,000-mile race that begins Feb. 9?

"In the late 1980s we would have three times this amount because the qualities of food back then were less," Olesen explained while taking a break from hauling countless bags around in the 30 below temperatures. "Everybody's still sending kibble out, but they also send out lots of lamb and a lot of chicken skins and that kind of stuff doesn't take up a lot of room. It's pretty heavy, but it's compact."

It's compact because much of the food now used for competitive mushing is meat products sent through a grinder that ultimately become blocks of potent snacks.

"You have way more calories these days in a chunk of that stuff compared to the kibble that they were trying to use back in the day," said Olesen, who's been involved with the race for most of his life.

His concern once the supplies are delivered is that a warm spell doesn't threaten to make a mess of the perishables.

"As long as it stays below 30, I'm happy," Olesen said.

Bruce Milne of Two Rivers was among those happy to drop off his mountain of supplies at Summit Consulting (Canadian mushers did the same in Whitehorse). He ran four straight Quests from 2001-04 before taking a three-year hiatus.

"About three-quarters of it is dog food and one-quarter is everything else, and most of the bulk is dog blankets and dog coats," Milne said.

Milne's dog grub included kibble, beef, chicken, liver, tripe and fish. His strategy for packing it all?

"You just clobber the living room with boxes full of stuff for all the different checkpoints, and hope the inside dogs don't get too nosy," Milne said.

Rookie Andreas Moser of Switzerland had another strategy - ask buddy Sebastian Schnuelle, a Quest veteran who introduced him to the sport but is sitting this year's race out in favor of the Iditarod and All-Alaska Sweepstakes.

"He made a whole list of what's needed," said Moser, who is driving a team of Schnuelle's dogs. "That's probably good because I don't have any experience in this really long distance."

Moser's bags - some he had to repack because they substantially exceeded the new 40-pound limit - were each decorated with a small Swiss flag, more for identification than patriotic purposes.

Three-time defending Quest champion Lance Mackey didn't show up Saturday, instead sending a handler and family members to complete the task.

Mackey, along with Fox neighbor and hopeful Quest contender Ken Anderson, weren't there for good reason: they were off racing in the Tustumena 200 on the Kenai Peninsula.

Traveling in the other direction was Bill Cotter of Nenana, who is grateful the Quest sends his food ahead. That's wasn't so for the first race in 1984, when he said mushers were required to carry an extraordinary load of 300 pounds leaving Dawson City.

With 20,000 miles of dog racing under his belt, Cotter said he's got packing down pat. Saturday's event, though, signifies that now there's no turning back.

"If you do the food drop, I would guess you're gonna go in the race," the 1987 Quest champ said with a laugh. "I would think so anyway."

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