Quest mushers have varied diet programs

Posted: Monday, January 20, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- It's not an exact science, but each musher has a special formula for what to pack for dogs and human in the 30-some bags sent to the 10 checkpoints along the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

Two-time Quest champion John Schandelmeier packs spaghetti and pumpkin bread, Bruce Milne has about 240 candy bars he can eat one after the other, while rookie Andy Elsberg has a bunch of Thai food in vacuum-sealed packages, ready to be warmed up and consumed while on the trail from Whitehorse, Yukon, to Fairbanks next month.

Meanwhile, dogs will feed on beef, horse and even beaver meat with whitefish, salmon or lamb sausage thrown in as snacks.

''They eat like kings,'' said rookie Alden West. ''When did any gray-haired housewife in Seattle feed salmon steaks or lamb sausage to her dog?''

Quest mushers dropped off their bags in either Fairbanks or Whitehorse Saturday, while those living Outside had to ship them to either place, said race manager Dave Rich.

Dog drivers can now concentrate on getting themselves and their dogs to the starting line in Whitehorse by Feb. 9.

''Getting all that (food) to the starting line is tougher than the race itself,'' West said Thursday while divvying up his supplies among 28 bags laid out in front of his Chena Point Road cabin.

He'd already diced up 400 pounds of frozen meat, a combination of beef and beef liver. He'd also sliced 350 pounds of fish into steaks, then vacuum-packed them. Dicing up the dog food is the hardest part because the cold meat dust gets everywhere, numbing his hands, West said.

He also thawed frozen turkey skins, then grouped them in piles on plastic or cardboard left outside to refreeze. He used a spatula to pry each of the little mounds up, then packaged them.

''They're almost pure fat, very high in calories,'' West said. The dogs also like the bite-sized snacks.

''The dog food is by far and away the most important thing because they do so much work,'' West said. He's aiming to supply each of his roughly 50-pound dogs with about 12,000 calories a day.

West had three sets of bags for each checkpoint. One holds dog food, one supplies and one is filled with items he'll need quickly when he rolls into a checkpoint.

Among the quick-access items are a set of sled runners for each stop, plus a heavy-duty plastic set for the section of trail over Eagle Summit, one of four peaks in the Quest that towers over 3,000 feet.

Besides bottles of foot ointment, West set out batteries for his headlamp, hundreds of dog booties, gloves, hand warmers and cold medicine. Then there are bags of Kit Kat candy bars and granola bars.

West was one of the first mushers to drop his bags off at Summit Logistics in south Fairbanks Saturday.

Six other mushers rolled in between 11 a.m. and noon, keeping the volunteers busy unloading the heavy bags.

John Schandelmeier, a veteran of 12 Quests, takes a different approach to organizing his drop bags. He packs everything in bags smaller than those many other mushers were dropping off Saturday, making it easier on both volunteers and himself, since they can carry two bags at a time.

Schandelmeier doesn't bring along a lot of extra clothes.

''Do you lose seven pairs of socks on a 20-mile run?'' Schandelmeier asked. ''Do you lose your pants or jacket?''

He keeps food packing simple for both him and his dogs, using mostly beef and horse meat for the dogs and spaghetti and pumpkin bread for himself.

Schandelmeier also relies on eating checkpoint food, mostly spaghetti, chili and hamburgers.

Rookie musher Andy Elsberg of Nenana packed a wide variety of food for his dogs to make sure the racers will have something to eat if they get picky. He packed mostly beef and horse meat, the staple diet for his dogs during training, but also threw in a little bit of beaver and some whitefish and lamb sausage.

''Maybe they'll just end up confused,'' the musher said. ''(The lamb) is $1.80 a pound, so they'd better eat that.''

Besides packages of Thai food, he'll have a slice of pizza waiting for him at each checkpoint.



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