CIRCLE - Two-time champion John Schandelmeier is contemplating making this 20th edition of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race his last.
After 12 Yukon Quests, including wins in 1992 and 1996, Schandelmeier, 51, has seen an evolution of the sport from an adventure to a race, from self-sufficient sled dog to the sleeker, fleeter smaller dog.
"I want a dog who can sleep in the snow and out in the wind and not have to worry about them," Schandelmeier said.
Instead, he's had to adapt. Part of his team consists of the newer breed of long-distance racing dogs that look more and more like sprint dogs.
He said it's similar to the evolution of horse racing hundreds of years ago from racing the fastest pony in the yard to exclusively using thoroughbreds.
"It really isn't the direction I want to go," he said. "It's just a personal preference."
Schandelmeier is not the first to talk about not returning to the Quest.
Juneau musher Deborah Bicknell said she will concentrate on shorter races after scratching last week in Pelly Crossing. Rookie David Milne said he chose to run the Quest this year as his last race before giving up sled dog racing for good. While stuck in Eagle on Monday, Jim Hendrick also said he's calling it quits after 12 Quests.
Others have hinted at it, including Frank Turner, the only musher to enter all 20 Yukon Quests.
"This is getting pretty close to the end for me," Turner said at Circle. "It's harder for me now than it was 10 years ago."
Both Turner and Schandelmeier have tried to change with the Quest over the years.
"If the Yukon Quest is going to survive as a race it can't be stuck in the dark ages," Schandelmeier said. "I don't see anything wrong with it. It's just the evolution of the sport."
The biggest part of that change is the emphasis on dog care.
Schandelmeier has studied his dogs most of his more than 15-year career in dog racing. He has spent time away from long-distance racing and has even tried his hand at sprint racing to have a broader knowledge of the sport.
He lives a rural life as a part-time trapper running his dogs out on his trap line, living a subsistence life on the banks of Paxson Lake with his wife, Deb, and their three children.
He's also the first to acknowledge he doesn't have a winning team this year. He's dealing with dogs that have limitations, whether it's something they were born with or something that's developed during their life, he said. The trick is overcoming these "handicaps" and doing well despite them, he said.
As of Wednesday night, he was running in third place, well behind eventual champion Hans Gatt.
"If I try for first, I may get 15th. If I try for fifth, I may get fifth," Schandelmeier said. "Right now everything is going fairly smoothly and I'll probably stagger into Fairbanks."
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