David Oyukuluk, who took top prize in annual springtime race, said he feels 'awesome'
Soft snow, open water, and tangled lines — those were some of the challenges faced by mushers in this year's Nunavut Quest dog sled race.
Twelve mushers entered the race which began on April 11 in Igloolik and finished nine days later in Arctic Bay.
"I feel awesome that all the mushers made it home safe and sound," said David Oyukuluk, who was named this year's winner.
The Nunavut Quest dates back to 1999, when it was first held to mark the creation of the new territory.
It was revived anew in the wake of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, which examined the history of the Baffin region in the 1960s and '70s, including the enormous loss of sled dogs as people moved rapidly into communities. The annual event encourages the breeding and rearing of Canadian Inuit dogs, the traditional working dog.
This year's quest followed a 400-kilometre route, over sea ice and tundra, in sometimes harsh Arctic weather. There were no communities along the way, and designated camp spots roughly 50 kilometres apart where all the mushers and their supporters camped together each night.
Each dog team pulls a 14-foot qamutiik with camping supplies. Mushers can start the race with no less than eight dogs and no more than 12, harnessed in the traditional fan style, where each dog is tied with its own line to the sled.
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) sponsors the event, offering prize money, gas money for support teams, food for camps along the trail, payment for timekeepers, dog food and vet services.
"Each completed quest proves that [Qikiqtani Truth Commission] milestones are being reinforced and accomplished," reads a news release from QIA congratulating the racers.
All but one of the mushers this year were from either Arctic Bay or Igloolik. The exception was Jovan Simic, a non-Inuk who said he wanted to race just for the experience of it. He arrived in Arctic Bay just ahead of Oyukuluk and was given runner-up status.
Simic — who prepared for the 400-kilometre race by travelling the 1,200 kilometres from Iqaluit to Igloolik by dog sled — said he didn't know what to expect from the race. He entered even though he knew he wouldn't be eligible for the top prize. He said he wanted to learn more about how people from other parts of the region run their dog teams.
Reaching Arctic Bay was "overwhelming," Simic said.
"I couldn't believe how many people were there and how welcoming everybody was and how excited everybody was to to have us," he said.
"So it was quite emotional and it's something I won't forget for a very, very long time."
Oyukuluk — who arrived about 45 minutes after Simic — said his dogs were pretty excited as they approached home.
"They started running faster when they got closer to all the people down on the ice," he said.
Oyukuluk said there were some challenges here and there on the trail, including some deep snow in spots. He also described how he and Simic, travelling close together one day, had followed the wrong trail that took them near the open water.
They then faced the challenge of getting themselves back on the right track — without getting their lines tangled.
"We helped each other out," Oyukuluk said.
With files from Cindy Alorut
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