Musher Hans Gatt puts himself to the ultimate test in sled dog racing

Posted: Thursday, March 07, 2002

NIKOLAI (AP) -- Take the Iditarod and multiply by two. That's what Hans Gatt has done.

Gatt, a sled maker from Atlin, British Columbia, won the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race last month. Eleven days later he set out on the 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome. He's still not sure why.

''I don't know, for the challenge, I guess,'' Gatt said, taking a break from dog chores in Nikolai. ''I just went crazy one day and said I'd do two races, not realizing what I'd gotten myself into.''

The Iditarod is better known than the Yukon Quest, but many mushers consider the 1,000-mile race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to be more demanding than the Iditarod.

The Quest is run through more remote country with fewer checkpoints and, because it is run in mid-February, mushers are more likely to encounter colder temperatures.

Running both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod in the same year is a feat rarely undertaken. Caring for a dog team during a race involves a lot of work and little sleep for a musher. Doing two grueling races back to back can mean double the exhaustion.

Gatt said he's holding up well so far, but it might hit him farther on down the trail.

Only a handful of mushers have ever attempted both races in the same year. Tim Osmar of Kasilof, who won last the Yukon Quest in 2001, also ran the Iditarod, finishing 18th.

''If I finish in the top 20 I'll be happy. That's all I want to do,'' Gatt said as he walked his dogs, one by one, in the warm sunshine.

Gatt was taking his mandatory 24-hour break in Nikolai. He was in 34th place.

''We've got a super fast trail and I've got a slow dog team,'' said Gatt, who figures his team is averaging about 9 miles per hour.

''I didn't really expect them to run fast so soon after the Quest. I was hoping for a slower trail.''

Nine of the 16 dogs Gatt began the Iditarod with were from his winning Quest team, including lead dogs Pepper, Havana, Bonzo and Felix. He has since dropped two of the dogs from his Quest team but says that those remaining are doing well.

''They look better than the others,'' he said.

Gatt has run the Yukon Quest two times and has won the Wyoming Stage Stop Sled Dog Race four times. He is running his fifth Iditarod and says it may be his last.

After his best finish of 12th in 2000, he dropped down to 19th place last year.

''I haven't had a decent Iditarod so far. My dogs always get sick. It just seems I can't get it right on the Iditarod, Gatt said.

While the Iditarod gets the most attention, Gatt says he prefers the wilderness experience of the Quest.

''You're out there with your dog team all by yourself. You camp out a lot more,'' he said.

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