FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) There are many factors going against mushers as they trek the 1,000-mile International trail that makes up the Yukon Quest. However, for many mushers, the weeks leading up to the race is more difficult than actually being on the trail.
"I am really excited to get all that over with," Rookie Nora Själin said of the logistics leading up to the race. "That is not my favorite part, it is fun, but I get super stressed."
"The hardest part is the week leading up to it, all the hustle and bustle," Defending Yukon Quest Champion Brent Sass said. "When they say 'go', we will be happy campers."
"I'd say three quarters of the battle is just getting to the starting line," Veteran Ryne Olson said. "We are just ready to get on the trail and start and be done with all the prep work, we are excited to pull the hook and leave on the race."
The food drops, paper work and planning is over, as the mushers and dogs are ready for the 2020 Yukon Quest, which begins on February 1 as the Morris Thompson Cultural Center in downtown Fairbanks at 11 a.m.
Defending Yukon Quest winner Brent Sass is returning this year to defend his crown. Sass has been one of the most successful Alaskan mushers of the last decade, earning two Yukon Quest titles (2016 & 2019) and a runner-up finish in 2016. Sass says he enters this race with an even better, more experience team than last year. Winning one of the toughest sled dog races in the world is great and all, but Sass was more proud of how he finished last year, rather than where he finished.
"I'm trying not to get too caught up in trying to defend or do anything like that." Sass said at the mandatory Vet Check last Saturday. "I think the biggest thing is I finished with all 14 (dogs) last year and once you do that once, for me, that is kind of the bar, that is kind of the standard. I think I am putting more pressure on myself about doing the best possible dog care I can do and cross the finish line with the biggest amount of dogs I can."
Sass also plans to run the Iditarod, which begins in early March. He could become the second person ever to win both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod in the same year, after Lance Mackey did it in 2007.
Another returner is Ryne Olson, who is competing in her fifth Yukon Quest after placing 11th last year. Her mother and husband, who have helped her along every Quest she has competed in, will accompany Olson at different spots along the trail. Olson is eager to see what her dogs are capable of on the long, enduring trail.
"I've got some returning leaders, Goblin and Cook are going to be on the team," Olson said. "They led quite a bit for me last year and then I've got some new two and three year olds who have not done a 1,000-mile race, but are looking phenomenal in training, so I'm excited to see how they do."
Olson, of Two Rivers, was the 2017 Copper Basin 300 Champion and placed ninth in the Yukon Quest the same year.
Nora Själin is one of three rookies competing in the 2020 Yukon Quest. Själin, of Furuflaten, Norway, has been mushing dogs on the Scandinavian trails for years. For her, she is most looking forward to the scenic 1,000 miles that lie ahead of her and her team.
"I'm really excited to see all the good stuff about the trail, I'm really excited about the Yukon River," Själin said. "Where we train in Norway, we don't really have big rivers, so I'm super excited about that one."
Själin says it has always been a dream of hers to compete in the Yukon Quest, and she will get to live that dream on Saturday when the historic race begins.