Feb. 7, 2018

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Yukon Quest 2018

Experiencing being a part of the Yukon Quest was somewhat of a disappointment. For several weeks leading up to the anxiously awaited teams of dogs and mushers coming thru our town of Eagle, our community had been preparing meals, making plans and scheduling volunteers to man the checkpoint. Nate and I volunteered to take the 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift every night until the last musher came thru. We were excited to be a part of this experience, meeting mushers, handling the dogs, calling in racers to headquarters, hob knobbing with the race officials staying at the checkpoint. Anything to break the monotony of mid winter doldrums.

Last night was our first night of volunteering. My hopes and anticipation were shattered about 2 hours in... We had been called earlier that day and asked if we could stay on til 4 am to cover an unmanned shift. Six hours. We gladly accepted the extension, thinking that this was going to be a fun night. It was not to be...

The first musher into our shift wasn't scheduled to arrive for an hour and a half. The volunteers we were relieving gave us a rundown of how to check the mushers in. What should have taken two minutes to explain, took about 30 minutes. A pretty simplistic system that they tried their best to make seem like we were being given the nuclear launch codes to release a live nuke. We smiled politely and nodded, trying not to snicker at their overly inflated air of importance. I guess when you live in a remote community, being endowed with a super power such as this, gives your life a semblance of meaning in this vast transient universe...

Time ticked on as we awaited the first racer of our shift Crammed into an old schoolhouse built in the early 1900's, we sat around tables and listened to the crackling wood in the barrel stove. Inside it was about 90 degrees, the fire raging hot so it could dry out mushers gear hung on clothes lines nearby. Outside it hung at 40 below all night long. 

The night went like this, strip down, wait until you think your going to die of boredom, gear back up to brave the sub zero frigid weather outside, brief frenzy of activity, greet the musher, check off his gear, get his dogs parked, go back inside, call him in, strip back down, wait for the next one...

My desire to chat with race officials and visiting vets slowly evaporated like the steam rising off the arctic parkas drying by the woodstove as they kept their eyes affixed to various devices, chatting online and surfing the internet to pass time. Each person I tried to engage into conversation with couldn't seem to keep themselves from being sucked back into the evil internet vortex.

I wanted to stand up and yell at everyone there, "What has happened to you all??! What happened to hanging out, playing cards, telling stories to one another to pass time thru the night??!" My illusion of what I thought was going to be a fun engaging night turned into one of absolute sheer and utter boredom sitting amidst the zombie horde...

I sat staring at the fire.  Occasionally i would step outside and watch the magnificent northern lights dancing brightly across the clear night sky. I actually yearned to be one of the mushers, heading off into the dark of night, lights dancing overhead, leading me back into the wilderness and onto the trail where I could be alone with my thoughts and revel in the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. Nothing but the feeling of freedom coursing thru me as my dogs raced silently across the snow...

Snapped back into my reality of exhausted boredom, the first musher arrived. Camera crews and race officials streamed out of the cramped schoolhouse. The musher was greeted, "welcome to eagle checkpoint. How are you holding up?" The musher would answer and I rattled off the gear he needed to show me. Passing my inspection, I handed him off to Nate, who grabbed the lead dog, snapped on a short leash and led the team and sled with musher still in tow to their "parking area." I headed inside and called race HQ, informing them the racers name, time into eagle checkpoint and how many dogs he had. Go write the info on the dry erase board, then sit and wait for the next racer... Exciting!! Not really, that was actually sarcasm if you didn't pick up my tone there...

And guess what? Now that we have volunteered to do this every night til the last musher checks in, we get to do it all over again tonight...