Saturday, February 9, 2008

the Joy of Phil

it's race day in Fairbanks - the start of the 25th annual Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. this 1000 + mile race, considered by most Alaskans to be the "real" sled dog race (as opposed to the glitzy Hollywood race they call the Iditarod), runs between Fairbanks, Alaska, and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, alternating direction every year. This year the start was in Fairbanks and Cobbie and i braved the -35F temps to see my friend Phil Joy take his place in the starting line-up.

the race starts in downtown Fairbanks, on the Chena River. folks, i mean ON the river, which is frozen of course. rivers make great highways in the winter. when i arrived on the scene, this is what i saw: legions of hardy Fairbankans clad in fur, fleece, parkas, and all manner of chunky warm boots out there to cheer on the dogs and their mushers.

dog teams start 3 minutes a part, and are lined up in a staging area behind the starting line, waiting their turn. i made my way to the staging area to see how Phil and his dogs were doing and to give him my best for the long journey.
the staging area is a fun place to be, surrounded by dogs whipped up into a barking frenzy excited to start their race. if you've ever been around sled dogs, you know that sheer joy is defined by a dog about to run. and this was Team Joy. these guys looked good, they looked happy, and they were ready to go. Here, Phil checks a bootie on one pup while his handlers deal with the rest of the dogs (that's his fiance Kumi behind him in the blue, ruffed parka).

Phil's a cool guy. he's about my age, has been running dogs for about 8 years, and reminds us all that working with these dogs is an honor and a privilege. i met Phil through work, where he is a fishery biologist. two years ago, Phil made the same attempt at this race, but was thwarted by a nasty blizzard on Eagle Summit. while he was able to weather the storm safely with his dogs, he and several other teams were evacuated from the mountain. As he looks toward the starting line, Phil hopes to cross the finish line in Whitehorse behind his pups and he has a gaggle of supporters here in Fairbanks to help him.

one final check of things up and down the line, a few well wishes from friends...

and Phil's off! check out the yukon quest website to track Phil's progress, look at the race course, learn about sled dogs, and other cool stuff.

good luck, Phil, and we'll see you in Whitehorse!

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