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Friday, March 6, 1998
Copyright 1998 Anchorage Daily News

Tough and tougher: Iditarod vs. Quest

By Doug O'harra
Daily News Reporter

It's one of Alaska's great debates: Which 1,000-mile sled dog race is tougher -- the Yukon Quest or the Iditarod?

A serious answer isn't simple, according to Nenana musher Rick Mackey, one of the most experienced dog drivers in the world and one of only three people to win both races (the Quest in 1997, the Iditarod in 1983).

Obviously, both races are difficult, Mackey says, but in different ways. The Quest traverses more-rugged country through remote Interior forests with colder temperatures.

"I think the terrain of the Quest is tougher," Mackey says. "There are a lot more mountains. And it's a tough part of the (Yukon) River -- the ice gets real jammed up and you have a lot of pressure ridges that you don't have on the Iditarod."

The Iditarod crosses vast stretches of rolling taiga, usually following a trail packed by snowmachines. The Quest trail can be punchy -- or nonexistent. "It's like the Iditarod used to be," Mackey says.

Then there's the sheer distance between checkpoints, which are fewer in the Quest. While a day on the Iditarod can be crowded with vet checks, multiple villages, media interviews and autograph-seeking fans, a musher on the Quest might not see another human.

"You leave Pelly Crossing, for instance -- it's 260 miles to Dawson, so it's you and your dogs for 260 miles," Mackey says. "Whereas in the Iditarod, you might hit four or five checkpoints in that distance. You're out there cruising by yourself, and the country is big."

But the Quest's wilderness qualities probably make it less stressful to run, Mackey says.

"It's easier in some ways because of the pace. The Iditarod has a lot more money in it, and it's been run a lot of years by the best teams in the world. The Iditarod is more scientific. I mean, we've figured out how to get it down to under 10 days."

Running the Iditarod competitively means working year-round, obtaining large sponsorships, hiring handlers, fielding large kennels. "You need more money, because everything is just on a higher level. You need a bigger program overall just to win the race."

It was the Quest's slower pace that attracted Mackey two years ago.

"So that's where the Quest looked like a place where a guy could go and still run your dogs a 1,000 miles and make a little money while you do it."



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