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  • Day244

    Dog sled race-Nunavut Quest

    May 12, 2018 in Canada ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Every year, dog sled teams meet in a Nunavut community and set off on a race to another community at least 500 km (315 mi). It is run between completely isolated communities. In ordr to arrive at the 'start' line, mushers and their dogs will have had to already travel overland from their home community--sometimes hundreds of kilometers.

    There are no support teams running along side them, no helicopters monitoring progress, no medical stations. Each evening, the teams are supposed to arrive at a set camp that has been set up by the forward crew of supports using snowmobiles and carrying qomatiks full of gear. On the racers' qomatiks, however, there is only a box with a rifle, sleeping bag, snow saw, knife, 2-burner stove, and a little food for emergencies. There are a few sat phones these days, carried by the support crew. I suspect, but do not know, that the racers have at least GPS SPOT devices, but maybe they're carrying InReach devices---which allow 2-way text communication to any other device, by using the Iridium satellite network.

    Everything the racers use must be HANDMADE (well, not the stove and rifle and stuff like that---but dog team stuff has to be) . The dog harnesses, the whips, and the qamatiks have to be handmade (though, I am not sure you can buy an Inuit qamatik at the Home Depot anyway). The qamatik is lashed together with rope, made from nylon or sealskin, no screws. This allows the sled to flex rather than break. The dogs run in a fan hitch which allows them to choose their own way over the terrain and rough snow.

    This year, the race started in Igloolik and we were allowed the afternoon off to go watch the start of the race. For several days, I had heard and seen the dogs out on on the ice in front of town. There were massive qomatiks in town---bigger than I'd ever seen. There were different ski-doos racing around. It was interesting how I noticed these things and have only been living here less than a year. I found it funny that I would see a ski-doo drive by and think, "where's that thing from? That's not from Igoolik!"

    It looked like a majority of the town came out, including the school children. They were let out as well to come down to the ice to watch. The police were there, the mayor of course, and basically every other able-bodied person.

    The dogs reminded me of racing horses. If you've ever been to a horse race, you can see that the horse has a single-track mind, and that is to run. They are actually a bit crazy....like the dogs. When the dogs felt their leader get ready and start moving the whip, they became frenzied. Barking, yelping, and jumping against their harnesses. The qomatiks were held in place with a claw-like anchor dug in the ground like a tent stake to prevent the dogs from taking off with the sled. One guy's anchor clearly wasn't in too good because all of a sudden, I heard a commotion and I see a team of dogs streaking by....with an Empty sled! Guys were running after it and one young man managed to grab it and he dug his heels in, getting dragged by the dogs. He prevailed over the dogs, but was massaging his shoulder afterward---clearly, it didn't feel super great to stop a giant wooden sled being pulled by dogs!
    This is the type of knowledge and tradition that the Inuit do not want to lose. This is the cool stuff that their culture has been practicing for years. How does this fit in a modern society? What is the value of preserving these types of things? How do young people reconcile the need to gain skills to be successful in the current world, but have to leave these skills behind to die with the elders? It's a tough question.
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