“The dogs are in town” are the buzzwords.
There is great excitement as the community hosts this annual dog sled race from its starting point.
Before the race, a feast was given to honour the mushers. Harry Okpik, the legendary one-legged musher was not hindered. I followed the race electronically and was happy to see that a few days into the race, he was pulling up third.
It’s about a ten day journey to the destination community, about 600 km. north. Camps are set up along the way by snowmobilers who travel in advance. Team vets closely monitor the animals.
For the start of the race, the whole town showed up – on school busses, skidoos, ATVs and pickup trucks. The dogs were tethered in long lines on the Great Whale River. As the mushers began to harness their teams to their sleighs, the howling, yelping, and barking reached a deafening crescendo. Some of the dogs became airborne as they leapt into the air, as high as their leads would allow them them.
Volunteers held onto each dogs’ harnesses until they were given the go-ahead at two minute intervals. One excited team veered 180 degrees and raced up the river in the opposite direction!
The dogs are surprizingly small and compact. No blue-eyed Siberian huskies are allowed, just Inuit sled dogs. Some looked like husky crosses, some white (like Skooner), and some were brown and woolly.
Working can be stressful. But on days like today, when the whole community comes together to cheer on local mushers and feast together, it makes it all worthwhile.