Yesterday on his blog, Hugh Neff, the 2012 Yukon Quest champion, Iditarod veteran, and Cat-in-the-Hat enthusiast, slammed certain “egoist mushers from the 80s” who have raced in the Iditarod for decades but have thus far avoided the less famous Quest.
The Yukon Quest is another 1,000-mile-plus sled-dog race that takes place every February and runs between Whitehorse, in the Canadian Yukon, and Fairbanks, Alaska. Established in 1984 by mushers who wanted a long-distance sled-dog race with fewer checkpoints than the Iditarod, the Quest follows the more interior mail and transportation routes used during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1800s. It’s a race many mushers consider more physically demanding than the Iditarod, one that one of its founders, LeRoy Shank, hoped would “put a little woodsmanship in it.”
The Chicago-born Neff is a big supporter of the Quest and has completed it ten times. He placed 2nd in this year’s race behind another Quest and Iditarod veteran, Allen Moore, who, interestingly enough, lost last year’s Quest race to Neff by a mere 26 seconds.
However, according to Neff, there are other, unnamed mushers who look down their noses at the Quest, past Iditarod “champs” who “demean newer mushers on ‘their’ trail and treat their dogs with disrespect.” Neff goes on:
Is dog mushing all about sponsors and financial gain? “Well, the purse just isn’t big enough to be worth it…” Are they worried about how organized that other 1,ooo mile race is? Well then why not provide expertise in helping it evolve? Is it the cold Alaskan interior weather? Temps have hovered way above zero over the last few years– warmer on average than the Last Great Race’s have been. Whatever their excuses it really is pathetic. Alaskans lead by example, unfortunately these prominent mushers glued to earning incomes off of Mr. Redington’s dream are the worst role models the Greatland has.
Much of what is behind Neff’s displeasure is that he feels the Iditarod, with its focus on winners and expanding purses, has lost much of the spirit that its founder, Joe Redington Sr., was after: the spirit of adventure, the spirit of Alaska, and the spirit of sled-dog culture. Neff believes the Yukon Quest still embodies this spirit.
It will be interesting to see if Neff’s words lead to speculations about his reason for skipping this year’s Iditarod. Ostensibly, he’s skipping it to participate in the Finnmarksløpet in Norway, which starts March 9th. After reading his post, will anyone see his absence as a diss?