There's pushing the envelope, and then's there's bulldozing it.
A mere three weeks before he leaves the starting chute for Nome in March's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, veteran musher Tim Osmar of Kasilof will test himself and his dog team in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
It is a feat attempted only rarely, and with good reason. While the Iditarod may have flashier name appeal, the Quest, which is 100 miles shorter but covers much more remote and difficult terrain, is generally considered a more grueling challenge.
So why would a musher want to try and pull off such a monster feat?
"I don't know. I'm still kind of questioning it myself," Osmar laughed. "I don't know if it's such a good plan or not, but every once in a while you've got to do something crazy."
Crazy or not, pulling it off would put him in impressive company. Among the four who already have the same-year double-race to their credit, three -- Sonny Lindner, Charlie Boulding and Jerry Riley -- have each won one of the races.
The Quest begins Feb. 11 in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Osmar, who is 33, will be joined in the starting chute by 33 other mushers, including two from the Kenai Peninsula (See related story, Page C-1).
The 1,000-mile trail that runs from Whitehorse to Fairbanks isn't exactly new turf for Osmar. He sandwiched his first Yukon Quest between 13th- and eight-place finishes in his first two Iditarods in 1985 and '87. So he certainly knows what he's up against. He placed third in the '86 race.
"I haven't run the Quest for about 15 years," said a tired Osmar, fresh off the trail with his dogs Wednesday evening. "But I think I've got a team pretty well-suited to it. Maybe not quite as fast as the top five, but pretty steady."
Osmar is training two different teams for this winter's racing schedule.
"I'll use older, veteran dogs in the Quest," he said of the 14-dog team, ranging in age from 5 to 7 years. "The Iditarod will mainly be a team of 2- to 3-year-olds, maybe even some yearlings. It'll be a younger, more inexperienced team. That way I'll be kind of training them for next year's race."
He said the combination of seasoned dogs and the pace of the Yukon Quest, which emphasizes endurance more than speed, may improve his chances.
"I think I can put in a decent team and finish in the money," Osmar said.
How he'll feel after covering 2,100 miles of some of the most forbidding terrain on the planet by dogsled, even he doesn't know.
"When I get to Nome, I'll tell you how it is."
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