- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - During a quarter-century of Yukon Quests, Dave Dalton has climbed mountains, navigated through blizzards and endured 40 below temperatures.

But his least-favorite moment comes weeks before the 1,000-mile Whitehorse-to-Fairbanks sled dog race. That’s when the Healy musher, who has run more Quests than anyone, has to decide what supplies will be waiting for him along the trail.

After spending weeks sorting dog food, winter gear and equipment, Dalton dropped it all off at Summit Logistics in South Fairbanks on Saturday, bundled into dozens of 40-pound mesh bags. They’ll be scattered at checkpoints throughout the race, offering a fresh batch of supplies as he arrives.

It’s a stressful enterprise even for a veteran, Dalton said. It’s a good bet he left something out.

“Food drop is the most painstaking headache of the race,” he said. “After this, it’s all easy.”

Marti Steury, the Quest’s Alaska executive director, said Food Drop day is a big milestone leading up to the Feb. 7 race. Not only is it a logistical challenge, but purchasing thousands of dollars worth of supplies is probably the biggest financial commitment in the Quest.

“For the mushers, this is a huge sigh of relief,” Steury said. “They’ve spend weeks or months putting this together. This is where the commitment comes through. This is where your race becomes a reality.”

Mushers are allowed to buy supplies along the way, but won’t have much luck if they bring a long shopping list to the Braeburn Lodge. For the most part, anything required on the trail needs to be accounted for on drop day.

Mushers also need to guess what may come in handy if they encounter a problem on the trail. If a team has a long run over a gravelly patch, there had better be a set of new sled runners waiting at the next checkpoint.

Two Rivers musher Allen Moore, who has won the last two Quests, said he’s still refining his supply list. He unloaded a heavily packed truck, containing bags for himself and his wife, Aliy Zirkle, who is running the mid-distance Yukon Quest 300.

“I don’t know if I’ve got it down - I’ve got an idea,” Moore said with a smile. “I’m better than when I was a rookie, let’s say that.”

Dalton said his preparations have evolved through the years. High-calorie dog nutrition has improved, so he’s able to bring less food. But warmer races have made the race less predictable, so he’s bringing more gear to withstand weather like rain and overflow.

Four-time champion Lance Mackey said he approaches drop day with a simple philosophy: bringing too much is better than not enough. Mackey said he isn’t planning a leisurely trip, but his supplies can definitely accommodate one.

“I’ve got enough to take a 24 in every stop,” he said. “I’m definitely over-prepared.”

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com


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