The Yukon Quest begins

(Whitehorse) Whitehorse is a land of mountains, snow and ice. Yesterday we saw it all from the perspective of a natural hot-spring baths just outside of the city, where steam floated into the frigid air. It was a nice welcome, knowing that bellow this very cold landscape are bubbling warm waters.

In the evening we were at the Frostbite music festival, taking place in the local cultural centers. Now that felt like time-warp. It was like going back to your high school dance, but with a different variety of music. It all started with country-type music. But I started dancing to the Jamaican jazz band. It all works well because (more for publicity than anything else) there is a Jamaican taking part in this year’s Yukon Quest.

It is early in the morning in Whitehorse, and from the window of my hotel I see the starting gate to the 1,000 mile race, the Yukon Quest. In a few hours mushers and their teams of dogs will take off on a whirlwind ten-day journey through the frigid landscape of the north. We arrived a couple of days ago, attending the opening banquet where the mushers pulled their names out of a hat to determine their starting positions.

I talked with Kyla Boivin, who at the age of 26 is actually one of the senior mushers. She has participated in six races, never quite finishing in the top ten. In fact, last year, she finished 15th. In the money, but dead last. But in this game, having made it at all is something of a feat. A little exasperated, however, I think for herself she needs to win this year. When it was her turn to pick her number, she read a poem. She will be starting number two this year. Kyla is a little bit awkward, not very media-savvy or articulate as some of her foes. But she has loved to mush since she was eighteen. She works as a log-home builder, but I suspect that what she knows best is being with her pack of dogs on the open ice, just listening to their feet hit the snow and ice for hours on end.

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