Yukon Quest: Efficiency at the Checkpoint

Every good musher knows that the one of the keys to distance racing is the efficiency of the musher. When a team races, the musher must strike the perfect balance between the rest needs of the team and the pace of the race. Part of that balance is making sure both mushers and dogs receive the maximum amount of rest during each stop. An inefficient musher in camp, can cost valuable minutes which add up to hours over a 10 day race. The inefficient musher will also be poorly rested, resulting in even more delays. Races can be won or lost based on an efficiently executed routine at each camp. Mushers often create and practice their own ‘checkpoint routine’ in training so they can execute quickly even when working in the cold and with less sleep. The goal is to have no wasted steps or movements. Two checkpoint routines were observed in Pelly Crossing this afternoon. Richie Beattie came in and set his hook to anchor the team. He then walked to the front of his team dispensing of love and praise for each dog along the way. He then secured the front of his team with a second snow hook. As Richie walked back to the sled, he gave each dog a cup of kibble to snack on. This worked well as eating the individual kibbles kept the dogs occupied while Richie went to work. On his next trip up to the leaders, he removed all of their booties then distributed a big pile of straw to each dog on his return trip. This routine allowed Richie to get his team fed and bedded down within minutes. The dogs went to work licking their paws clean and preparing themselves to bed down. Veterinary staff then examined Richie’s dogs and they settled in for a well-deserved rest. With the dogs resting, Richie then went to work organizing his gear, making a meal for the dogs and preparing himself for a well-deserved rest. JT Hessert arrived shortly after Beattie with his own routine. JT worked for Martin Buser, known in the mushing community as the guru of checkpoint efficiency. JT removed one of his snow hooks from the sled and walked it up to secure his leaders, petting each dog as he went. His second move was to walk back to the sled distributing straw. Each dog immediately went to work creating the perfect bed of straw and snuggling down in it. JT then made his way up the line spending time with each dog individually. He gave them each special attention and removed their booties. Once he reached the front of the team, he made his way back to each individual dog and spent more time massaging sore muscles and attending to tired joints. This treatment was coupled with more love and attention for each dog. With each dog massaged and loved, he provided them with a small snack before they laid their heads down. JT then went to work tending for himself and was later spotted wolfing down his Questarant Lasagna. Richie’s routine had all aspects of excellent dog care built in, and he was focused on getting the dogs fed and rested, with the thought that injury prevention and dog health come with good rest and nutrition. JT’s routine also had all the aspects of quality dog care, but there was a subtle difference in that his focus was on injury prevention, then food. Both are correct, and represent subtle philosophical differences in how mushers care for their teammates. They are as many philosophies as there are dogs on the trail and each result in well-tended dogs and well-rested mushers for a safe and healthy journey down the trail.

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