Insights from an Armchair Musher

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Day One

I’ve been over the Quest trail twenty times, seventeen of those times as a musher. Not quite as much as Dave Dalton, but more than most. I’m not missing being out on the trail this year. It will be interesting following the teams from home and trying to analyze the various data that comes in.

The information sources for those of us at home are few. There aren’t many reporters out at the checkpoints. And….at a checkpoint one only gets a brief snapshot of a teams’ day. A very experienced observer could get something, but maybe not enough to draw any solid conclusions about how that team is performing, or will do later on down the trail.

On the trail we have Trackers. I began as a proponent of trackers. As a race organizer and trail coordinator, I found them to be a valuable tool. Mushers, for the most part, find them a necessary nuisance. The fan base loves them because it allows the only possible look at teams on the trail. Media persons, in a role such as I find myself on this years’ Quest, can use them to help decipher the musher’s actions between checkpoints.

Yukon Quest checkpoints are few and far between compared to stops on most long-distance races. The trackers can help us know when and where rests were taken and even if a team is having trouble moving. The drawback, though we can see the actions, is we will not know the reasons behind the action. Our guesswork in these situations can and will lead us to some erroneous conclusions. That is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, dog racing, like football, is entertainment. Armchair quarterbacking.

The difference between a quarterback performing an action and a dog team is considerable, however. The football quarterback looks at the immediate situation unfolding in front of him and makes a decision based on what he sees. The dog driver is faced with a situation created by his own doing; either as a result of his winters’ training, or a decision he made on the trail some time prior.

As the 2015 Yukon Quest unfolds, I will be interested to see if the trail and dog knowledge I have can lead to some accurate conclusions based on the outside information I can obtain from all sources. The likelihood is that I am in the same boat as everyone else that looks at the information on a computer screen; too far removed from reality to understand the actions and results I see.

My love/hate relationship with trackers should come into focus over the next week or two. I’m depending on them for my best information. I’m also counting on experienced reporters Emily Schwing, (KUAC), and Jeff Richardson, (Fairbanks News Miner), for their interviews from the trail. I’m not sure where this will lead me; however, it’s sure going to be fun!

On the runners with Schandelmeier.

John Schandelmeier