Handlers take over at Quest

Posted: Sunday, February 20, 2005

DAWSON CITY, Yukon Territory (AP) — The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race belonged to the dog handlers on Friday.

At the halfway point, the 16 mushers who made it to Dawson City were required to take a 36-hour layover. They had one thing on their minds — sleep.

For handlers, this is the time on the Quest when the race is theirs.

The 200-mile run from Pelly Crossing to Dawson City includes an ascent of the 4,000-foot King Solomon's Dome.

''We want them to be comfortable,'' said Jodi Bailey, handler and partner with Dan Kaduce from Chatanika, who is running his third Quest. She was speaking of the dogs, not the mushers.

''We give them lots and lots of straw. They stay with all the same food they race with. We give them extra massages,'' she said.

Handlers set up camp in the government campground across the Yukon River from this gold rush town. Dogs bunk down in elaborate — by mushing standards — rest areas. Some consist of raised beds made of whole straw bales and covered by makeshift tents.

Dogs are kept on a feeding schedule, given ample fluids, walked regularly to loosen sore muscles, and in many instances get regular massage. Injuries are tended to in greater care than might be possible on the trail.

The handlers themselves often have heated tents set up alongside the team's designated rest area. Mushers head to hotel rooms or the homes of host families.

Bailey, still smelling of the liniment she applied to the dogs when she was at the campground Friday, said Kaduce's team looks great on the eve of the 150-mile run from Dawson to the checkpoint across the border in Eagle.

''They did great with the vet check,'' she said. ''They looked really happy when they got here.''

Bailey works with fellow handler Joe Milligan.

''He does the driving and I do all of the dog stuff,'' Bailey said of Milligan. ''I stay awake at checkpoints and wait for Dan to show up.''

For handlers Sydney Parsons and Sandy Cook, everything on the 2005 Quest is new.

''Every moment is a learning moment,'' said Parsons, of Saskatchewan, who along with Cook is handling for musher Bruce Langmaid, a rookie from Ontario.

In the race, Kasilof musher Jon Little grabbed the lead Saturday afternoon. Little, a race rookie, left 40 Mile River first at 2:32 p.m. He was followed by Gerry Willomitzer at 2:32 p.m. and Kasilof musher Lance Mackey at 2:45 p.m. 40 Mile River is 516 miles into the 1,026-mile race.

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