Although the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod are similar in their 1,000 mile length, there are a number of differences between them.
First of all, the Yukon Quest runs a month earlier than the Iditarod, so it’s generally darker and colder for the teams. It also crosses territory that is more remote than the Iditarod, and many say it is more rugged. The dogs probably don’t care about this (or even know the difference) but it can weigh heavily on the mushers’ minds to be so far from anyplace. Stress adds up in a long race, and that’s a mental factor to contend with.
As a result of its remoteness, the Yukon Quest has fewer than half the number of checkpoints on Iditarod, and many of them aren’t as well established. That makes for substantially longer runs between resupply opportunities and forces teams to carry more weight, often including bales of hay.
That explains why some of the sleds you see in YQ photos look so much bigger and bulkier than their counterparts on Iditarod. With all the excess gear that’s sometimes lashed on top of the sled bags, they can look a little bit like the Beverly Hillbillies!
Another significant difference is the YQ's mandatory 36-hour layover in Dawson. Unlike the Iditarod in which mushers have several checkpoints to choose from for taking their mandatory 24-hour layover, all YQ teams must make their long layover in Dawson City. Although that obviously has an impact on race strategy and run/rest schedules, teams can at least plan for it well in advance.
On the plus side, the teams get an extra 12-hours of rest during their YQ layover versus their Iditarod 24-hour stop. Also an advantage, the YQ allows for virtually unrestricted assistance to be given to mushers by their support crews. Once Allen gets to Dawson, he can literally “hand over the keys” to the crew and they will take total care of his dogs for the duration of the break.
While Allen is sleeping, eating, sleeping again and eating more, the dogs will be doing the same in a very comfortable, tarp-covered and straw-lined campsite that has been fully prepared in advance by the crew. They dogs will also get frequent massages and stretch-out walks. The crew basically provide the dogs with round-the-clock room service and personal pampering!
Here are a few photos of last year’s campsite:
When the layover is complete, the crew will harness and bootie the team in time for Allen — hopefully fully rested, refreshed and refueled! — to jump on the runners and move them out. As soon as the team is out of sight, the crew will do a thorough clean-up of the campsite, load all the gear in the truck and resume their own race to stay ahead of the team to the finish line!
I'm sure an actual YQ/Iditarod musher could tell you a lot more about the differences between the races, but I hope this has at least given you the gist of it... Stay tuned!