Thirteen mushers from Churchill, Minnesota, Quebec and Ontario set out today from Gillam in hopes of becoming the 2015 Hudson Bay Quest dogsled race champions after 35 hours or more of solitary sledding from Gillam to Churchill.
The number of racers is down from the normal maximum of 17, says Bill Dingwall, Hudson Bay Quest race chairman, because of a few late withdrawals. Back in November, when registration opened there was a full slate and others on a waiting list.
This is the fourth year that the race has been run between Gillam and Churchill. The race began in 2004 and for several years covered a route between Churchill and Arviat, Nunavut.
Currently, the main concern for mushers is the weather, which is due to warm up the same day – March 13 - that the racers depart from Gillam at noon.
“Some of the mushers are a bit concerned it might be too warm,” Dingwall says, noting that the dogs have been training in -30 Celsius temperatures but the thermometer may rise up to around zero degrees by race time. “That’s going to be difficult for the dogs to run in.”
The race is going the opposite way of last year’s, so this year it will be Churchill’s chance to host the race-ending banquet when the official winners are announced.
For Dingwall, though, the start is more exciting. Prior to becoming race chairman, he served on the starting committee after once mentioning to his father-in-law, David Daley of Churchill, who created the Hudson Bay Quest, that he felt the start could be better organized.
“I find the start more exciting,” says Dingwall. “You have everybody there.”
By contrast, mushers can finish several hours apart and cross the finish line in the middle of the night with maybe only a dozen race officials and veterinarians to witness it, compared to about 200 people who turned out for the start of last year’s race in Churchill.
One of the attractions of the race for competitors, Dingwall says, is the requirement that racers be self-sufficient and carry all the gear they need to ride out inclement weather, including a tent, a cooker and fuel as well as a SPOT check device so race officials and interested observers can track the racers’ progress. The course covers about 320 kilometres of sub-arctic wilderness and includes a mandatory six-hour stop in M’Clintock.
“You have to have everything you need to get there,” Dingwall says, adding that the element of chance plays a big role in who wins. “The Hudson Bay Quest is hard for anybody to win. It’s just happenstance. It’s the unknown that truly makes this race.”
A testament to the role of luck is the fact that the race has never had back-to-back winners.
The race is sponsored and supported by Calm Air, Via Rail and the Hudson Bay Railway, as well as by volunteers, particularly the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, who patrol the race route beginning the day before the race and continuing until all the racers are done.
“They’re our support team for the mushers out there,” Dingwall says.
If race conditions are good, mushers could be showing up in Churchill by 11 o’clock on Saturday night.
For more information on the race, check out the website at www.hbqrace.com or the Hudson Bay Quest Facebook page. Mushers’ progress can be tracked on the website.