Yukon Quest mushers put strategy into food, staples

Dog sled racers pack ahead of Saturday start in Whitehorse

Posted: Thursday, February 12, 2009

FAIRBANKS - Of the countless things Wayne Hall packed for the upcoming Yukon Quest, the musher from Eagle made sure not to short himself of one crucial item.

"Copenhagen," Hall said with a laugh, exposing a dip of chewing tobacco. "Enough to keep me going. That might help keep me awake when I'm sleep deprived, I hope."

Josh Cadzow of Fort Yukon packed several unique comestibles for his huskies, including bear meat, prime rib donated from The Vallata restaurant and even "spoiled fish snacks."

"It's fish that's been sitting on the ground for awhile, caught in a fish wheel on the Yukon in the fall," the 20-year-old said of the king and chum salmon. "It stinks. (The dogs) like it, though."

Dave Dalton of Healy said what's different in his drop bags is what's lacking.

"No cholesterol," Dalton, 51, said. "No cookies, candies and all that sweet stuff. Basically just a bland diet of oatmeal and crackers."

The aforementioned trio was among 22 mushers - 15 from the 1,000-mile Quest and seven from the Quest 300 - assigned to drop off their supplies (or have a handler do so for them) on Saturday afternoon at Summit Logistics off Van Horn Road.

From there, the hundreds of 40-pound woven plastic bags will be moved in two 40-foot Lyndon Transport trailers to nine checkpoints between Whitehorse, Yukon, (where the race starts Saturday) and Fairbanks (where it will end about two weeks later). Bags were flown to road-inaccessible Eagle on Monday.

That's one place Hall doesn't need to worry about shipping supplies, since he lives there. The logistics of the race require not only time but brain power, he said.

"Things like the food drop ... we probably got 40 hours just in putting bags together," said Hall, who was assisted by wife Scarlett. "That doesn't mean chopping (meat) and gathering and logistics and figuring your run/rest (schedule) and how you're going to feed. It's a very mind-boggling experience."

It might be tedious, but packing is a crucial task.

"Once your drop bags are done, that's it. You can't change anything, so you really have to pay close attention," said Hall, who left Eagle on Jan. 13 and mushed 170 miles just to reach his truck near Tok. From there, Hall drove to Fairbanks a few days later.

Cadzow's travel came earlier, as in December he left Fort Yukon for Goldstream Valley, where he's been staying with his parents.

As a rookie, Cadzow figures it's better to pack too much than too little. He dropped off three bags per checkpoint.

"I think I packed enough," Cadzow said. "I don't want to run out of nothing."

The task was not a last-minute scramble for Cadzow and his helpers.

"We started it early this week, chopping meat. We were ready for a couple days now," he said.

For Dalton, this will mark his 18th Quest.

"It's pretty much down to a science these days," he said about packing.

One might think Dalton would be trimming his loads to save weight, but instead he's now packing more of everything - clothes, sled parts, meat - to prepare for the wildly varying trail conditions and weather that the race can produce.

"I have about 40 bags," Dalton said. "I think my first Quest I had 22."

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