FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - There’s no Alaska town called “101 Mile Steese Highway,” but every February, a small settlement comes to life on this part of the highway to provide Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race mushers with shelter, weather reports and dozens of pounds of bacon.
Fairbanks volunteer Peter Kamper managed this stop on the Yukon Quest from 1996-2015. He considers the old cabins at this location the most remote checkpoint on the 1,000-mile race famous for its remoteness, reported the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (https://bit.ly/2jothDL).
For the mushers, the checkpoint lies between difficult mountain passes, Rosebud Summit and especially Eagle Summit.
“Eagle Summit has always played a major role in the race,” Kamper said. “It usually creates one story or another. It has made a lot of winners, it has made a lot of losers.”
For volunteers, there’s no nearby town to support this checkpoint, so everything must be trucked in. Kamper likes the location’s isolation, especially in fairly recent history when ham radio was the main form of communication.
Under his leadership, Mile 101 went from an optional stop to leave behind dogs to a formal Yukon Quest checkpoint.
Move to Alaska
Kamper isn’t a musher, but he was drawn to Alaska’s state sport the same way he was drawn to many of Alaska’s outdoor adventures.
Kamper is German. In 1984, he visited Alaska with two friends. They initially planned to stay for a summer canoe trip between Canada’s Dempster Highway and the Dalton Highway Bridge over the Yukon River. Kamper was a medical student in Cologne, Germany, at the time. He liked Alaska so much he decided to stay here and not return home for medical school.
“What I really liked when I was out there in the Bush was climbing a little hill and simply feeling the wilderness. That really was it. The peace and quiet. I felt at home,” he said. “I don’t think I ever made a decision more by heart than the one I did back then.”
He got a job shoveling snow off roofs in Fairbanks his first winter and later worked as a laborer on the North Slope and as a commercial fisherman. Today, he’s a canoe guide with his business, Alaska Expedition Service, which caters mainly to Germans.
Offer at a bar
One January night before the start of the 1996 Yukon Quest, a Quest official at Ivory Jack’s bar in the Goldstream Valley convinced Kamper to join the Quest’s volunteer crew. Kamper didn’t need much convincing because he considered the race the “coolest thing happening in Alaska.” The official, Barry Emmett, told him the job involved stoking a cabin woodstove.
“He said, ‘The only thing is you have to keep a woodstove going.’ I said, ‘Sure.’ He said, ‘Well congratulations, you are the new dog drop manager for Mile 101.’”
Kamper soon concluded there was more to the job than keeping the cabin stove going. During the middle of the race, tired mushers with dozens of dogs converged on the small cabin. The dog drop point later moved to a group of cabins that’s closer to 102 Mile of the highway.
Kamper assigned a team of volunteers to keep the kitchen going, organize the crowded dog yard and keep up radio communication with the outside world. Ivory Jack’s offered to be a sponsor for the dog drop and kept it stocked with bacon and eggs. Kamper’s wife, Kelly Kamper, joined him as a volunteer and the couple’s son and daughter grew up helping the race.
Kamper liked his close-up view of the race. Mushers use all kinds of tricks to mislead their competitors about when they plan to rest and when they plan to push ahead. One year during a storm, musher John Schandelmeir set up his sled as if to go out in the storm before setting his snow hook, telling his dogs to lie down and climbing into his sled bag for a nap. His competitors had run out to prepare their teams when they saw Schandelmeier get up to leave. The competitors ended up leaving the checkpoint and breaking trail in the deep snow for Schandelmeier, Kamper said.
The 2006 race had particularly rough conditions.
That year’s race leaders Lance Mackey and Hans Gatt made it over Eagle Summit and into Central, but the next five dog teams and a snowmachine sent to look for them from 101 Mile all disappeared into the storm. An Army helicopter came the next day and rescued the teams.
“The helicopter that later rescued them clocked 98 mph winds above Eagle Summit,” Kamper said.
Kamper believed 101 Mile should be a checkpoint because as a dog drop, mushers can’t ship supplies to themselves there and have decided to push out into storms when they otherwise would have waited in the checkpoint if they had access to their supplies. The Quest made Mile 101 a formal checkpoint in 2010.
Although he was glad to see the stop become a checkpoint, Kamper hasn’t enjoyed all the technology upgrades there.
“Now having two cabins, two phone lines and computers all over the place, the true spirit of the place has long gone,” he said.
After 20 years as the 101 Mile manager, he passed on the title last year to longtime checkpoint volunteer Georganne Hampton. He won’t be at the checkpoint this year but he plans to follow the race as closely as he can from Fairbanks.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com
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