Mark Gillett

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Yukon Quest Reflections, “Wasting My Young Years”

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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.

Yukon Quest 2014The 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.

Yukon Quest 2014I 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.

Yukon Quest 2014I 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. Yukon Quest 2014

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.

Written by markgillett

February 6, 2014 at 4:50 am

9 Responses

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  1. Thanks for that great piece…and welcome to the “crying tears of joy in a small-plane flight through the untamed wilderness of the North” club…


    February 6, 2014 at 6:42 am

  2. Nice piece Mark – and enjoyed the video.


    February 6, 2014 at 12:31 pm

  3. A wonderful piece! Tears rolling down my face as I too, have experienced what you have in that small plane. The times spent in the mountains of AK changed my life. Oh, to start over and experience that when I was much younger…….((sigh)). Thank you for sharing!

    Mary Ellen

    February 6, 2014 at 1:53 pm

  4. Mark, Your candid sharing really touched me and brought tears to my eyes too. The dogs come first for everyone on the trail, from musher to check point manager to media. Your photo of Peter Kamper at the end of your pice says so much. His face reveals his commitment, humor and openness to people from all,over the world who come to feel what you have felt by following the Yukon Quest. He and many northers like him keep this event alive. I had the privilege to work with him for years on the boards but my most precious gem is the year I followed the race and reported on it like you. Savor it now. It will fuel your life for many, many years to come. Claire

    Claire Festel

    February 6, 2014 at 6:12 pm

  5. Fantastic! Brought back a lot of memories of my days in sprint racing, I cried with joy and amazement through the hole thing. They truly are the most incredible animals ever!
    Thank you.

    Wes Bradshaw

    February 7, 2014 at 5:26 am

  6. Beautifully written, Mark. And yes, so nice to see Peter at the end of your very moving essay. Speaks volumes to me. See you again next year!


    February 7, 2014 at 10:36 pm

  7. wonderful video Captures the spirit of the event


    February 9, 2014 at 3:07 pm

  8. Mark, I’m a life-long Alaskan and an amateur photographer. My fascination with the Yukon Quest, the mushers and the dogs have ran headlong into your beautiful photography. I was wondering what it would be like to see the race from your perspective, so I searched for you on the internet, only to find that you are as adept with the written word as you are with your camera. My 13yo son and I were at the start, and the video manages to capture some of the essence, the energy that was present. Simply beautiful editing, video a and music. Many, many thanks for the beauty that you see and share.

    Mike Kinville

    February 13, 2014 at 6:00 am

    • Hello Mike, Thank you for your kind words.. We love the race and its our passion for the Quest that really brings us to this part of the world. Tom Barber edits the video and really understands the whole race too.. This year I also brought and old friend in Heidi McGuire so the team is stronger than ever. Hopefully we will return next year too and with some new stuff as well…



      February 13, 2014 at 7:21 am

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