Just You, Your Dogs And The Yukon Sled Race

Mushing is a solitary endeavor, especially in the more remote parts of Northern Alaska and the Yukon Territory. That's the stage for 23 dog teams who set out a week ago on a 1,000-mile race from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Canada. Emily Schwing of member station KUAC reports from the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

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Nearly two dozen dog sledding teams set out a week ago on a thousand mile race over some of the most remote territory in North America. The mushers have reached the halfway mark in the race. They're now in the Canadian Yukon. And Emily Schwing of member station KUAC has been following the race since its start in Fairbanks, Alaska.

EMILY SCHWING, BYLINE: It's an unseasonably warm 30 degrees as 13 huskies line out in front of a sled packed full with gear. The dogs wear red harnesses and black booties on their feet and they howl with excitement. Musher Allen Moore calls to the dogs ahead of their 200-mile trot along the frozen Yukon River. Their desire to run is audible.

ALLEN MOORE: Good dogs.


MOORE: Dogs.


SCHWING: Moore steps onto the sled runners and takes off.


SCHWING: Longtime Fairbanks musher Sonny Lindner won the inaugural Yukon Quest in 1984. He's 62 years old. This is his seventh Quest. As he lights a stove to heat water for his dogs, I ask him why he runs this race.

SONNY LINDNER: Hey, that is a good question that I don't have an answer to.


SCHWING: Most say they do it to spend time with their dogs. Kristy Berington does it because she feels part sled dog.

KRISTY BERINGTON: They look at me I think as just one of the gang. You know, I could be out there strapped up to a dog house and running around on a chain with them and we'd all get along just fine.

SCHWING: These dogs face an incredible obstacle course: four foot high, crusty snow drifts, blocks of ice as big as a house and gaping cracks in the frozen Yukon River.

LANCE MACKEY: It's titled the toughest race on earth for a reason.

SCHWING: That's Lance Mackey. He's the Lance Armstrong of dog mushing. A cancer survivor, he's won The Yukon Quest four times. His dogs are a particularly boisterous bunch.


SCHWING: Their tongues flap as they run. Steam from their breath floats in the air. Mackey and all the other teams follow a Klondike Gold Rush-era trail. More than a century ago, miners used the route to access remote parts of the far north. It's the same place where today the weather is warmer, the trails are now marked, but the dangers are mostly the same.

In Dawson City, Yukon, I'm Emily Schwing for NPR News.


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