I took a flight this morning from Eagle Checkpoint to Dawson. I had been delayed a night and was quite eager to leave. Not for any good reason because Eagle was stunning and my time there very beautiful. The people, 100 in total, were all amazing too, putting on food and refreshments for the Mushers and the Quest officials. They also have their own musher in the Quest this year, the young Matt Hall.
The flight was carrying a vet, two drop dogs, a race marshall and myself. The plane was a tiny 4 seater with a little room for bags at the back of the plane. Gert, the pilot I met in 2009 when he took me up from an airstrip in Braeburn. About 5 minutes into the flight all the controls and electrics failed but strangely this did not phase me and he gently glided it down and my excursion was cut short.
This time the plane was fine and we took off towards Dawson with the river below us the plane rose above the turbulent winds smoothly. At this point my mind just cleared like a fog lifting. Not that I was stressed but there was this sudden clarity that led to a huge upsurge of emotion. So many things came into my mind as we crossed the beautiful landscape below. Winding rivers, mountains scattered with pine trees, sections of open water but mostly white where the snow lays peacefully on the pack ice.
My mind went to the incredible care shown to the dogs that had been dropped by their mushers. Nothing took priority over the dogs. Not us, not our bags, not even the pilot. Well maybe he did but he also looked after them like his own.
I was shooting out of the window brushing it clean of iced condensation every few minutes so I could see what I was doing. The soft rumble of the plane constantly singing in my ears. And suddenly, bang! Full on emotion for what I was experiencing. What my life has been about for pretty much most of my adult days. How lucky or privileged I have been to see and experience the world in such a way. I thought about how many people have told me they dream of visiting Alaska and yet here I am in a small plane flying over it. And for the rest of the time I am here I am travelling through it meeting some of the most amazing people. Then I thought of the mushers out there alone on the Quest and how their experiences must differ from mine. And how one day I might like to try. Maybe!
I hid my face in the glass of the window as tears ran down my face. I thought of my daughter back home, people I have become such good friends with here and around the world. Tom, who I travel here with. Heidi who I met here in 2009 and those who I have worked with before. Then Gabi in Cairo and the world I see there, so so different. There were so many things going through my head.
I took some more pictures and studied the barren but alive landscape and thought about how for most people, this sort of thing is just television. I then realised that this is the only place to take me somewhere close to what the desert does for me. It strips me right back to the real me. I Don’t have a mortgage or make huge amounts of money doing what I do but I do learn something new every day. I make enough for my daughter and me to live ok and for the adventures I experience through the work I do. I came to the conclusion that I live a really privileged life. I work extremely hard and often for little monetary reward but the rewards I receive in a real sense far outweigh everything else.
It also took me back to a few months ago when I considered selling a couple of older cameras that I no longer use. I keep everything in my loft and was having a clear out a few things. I told Emily I might sell them and she responded with “why?” I didn’t really have an answer as they aren’t worth much but what I didn’t realise is that they are to her.. She then followed with “but they are you, dad”. That really sealed it and they are still in my loft. My work and travel along with the stories I live for are important to her and maybe one day will be to her children and its these very personal stories of others that I love to hear or discover.
The Yukon Quest is full of stories, that date back to its beginnings in 1983. The land it covers holds stories from as far back as 14000BC and more recently since the Europeans came in the Goldrush years from 1890. I am always overwhelmed when I visit the North and I love being here. I hope I will continue to find enough to keep bringing me back.
Tom found a very apt piece of music for our first video, but more than that he then edited it sublimely. Don’t waste yours.
It finally got underway this morning with an on-time start of 11am. Snow was trucked in for the street start which was moved from the river last minute for safety reasons.. What an exercise! And the efficiency and organisation of this race is just incredible.
Once the mushers left by noon we hopped off and edited a few shots and then drove to Pleasant Valley Stores in Two Rivers – Such great names! – and we are now at the checkpoint editing, writing and uploading more stuff… You can find us on my Facebook, The Yukon Quest Official Facebook or probably just about anywhere to do with dogs on the internet.. Just search or hash tag search #yq2014
Here is a small gallery of shots from our arrival in Fairbanks.
I find myself back in the Yukon having said I would probably miss this year. Its now the 5th year I’ve ventured and more and more the North seems to suck me back into the wilderness and beauty that it exudes.
The team this year is myself, Tom Barber and Heidi McGuire. Tom has been with me the last three trips I’ve made and Heidi I met in 2009 on the YAU. I can’t imagine better people to work with and combined with the OTC team and Yukon Quest team, I am really looking forward to the next two weeks of trail, fun, tiredness and usual battles to get the job done.
Already the curveballs have started and the main one has been the weather. The heaviest snow the Yukon has seen for years has all but been discarded by the spring like temperatures of the last week or so. The roads are near clear and the trail is very different. But this does not hold the Quest back. In fact it probably enhances it. Teams will have to be at their best to win this year. Now that the temperatures have fallen again, there will be ice, and possibly overflow. All great stuff for the thinking musher!
Its these conditions or changing conditions that make this such a great race. Like some of the desert stuff I cover, it can be very unpredictable, very demanding and a great challenge. If it were the same each year, how easy that would be to calculate? How boring would it be to follow? The North will always have its say whatever.
We drive up to Fairbanks tomorrow and a few nights of functions before the action start and then we set off back to Whitehorse. We will be posting videos and images along the route and your participation is vital. Comments, posts, opinions (not to strong of course) and questions on Facebook and Twitter.
Give us your thoughts on who you want to win, or if you don’t mind.. Our stories will be unique as they always are as the trail will, Im sure, give us plenty to talk about. Can Hugh Neff do it again or will Allen Moore pip him to the post. Or will we have a new winner this year? Will Normand be the darling of the race? Or will that go back to Brent Sass again.. Is it Brent’s year to hold that trophy?
Well, by the 10th Feb we should know the answers to those questions so here’s to the Yukon Quest 2014. Im toasting with a glass of red in the High Country Inn, Whitehorse!
See you on the trail
I am sure there are many of you out there starting to get a little nervous about your last 12 weeks before the start of your MDS. I know exactly where you are at so just keep believing and training up to departure. Remember that tapering is no use, gathering calories does not work, go light, pack light and take the food you need. You have everything else to succeed and no reason to fail. You have water, shelter and food. The rest is in your head! Here is a little piece just published.. Good luck!!
Photographer looking for excitement For film and photography project Yukon. Local would be good… firstname.lastname@example.org #yukon #whitehorse
Some of you will have read about YES 2014. Its a part of what I do and I give my time for six months to hopefully make a difference to 12 young peoples lives. I can’t do it regularly because its all consuming and I do not want tomake business out of it. The cost for 12 children to go is around £40,000 and I am reaching out to anyone who might be able help. Very soon we will have a giving page but in the mean time I am looking for one or two people who might like to underwrite this in its entirety. I meet many people who could afford this but the key to wanting to help is, if you feel a connection to helping? Basically the youth today are the future and will be here long after we are gone.. They will be making decisions that will correct a lot of what we have done wrong in our time. This is why its close to me. Please read the info on our FB page, share it or send to someone who might help. If you want more information please private message me.
Or call me on +447973 690087