Advanced level English
race that's said to be the toughest race in the world
Each year, in the middle of February, up to thirty-five teams of men
and animals set out from the town of Fairbanks, Alaska, or from
Whitehorse, Canada, at the start of what is described as the "toughest
race in the world". The Yukon
is the most exciting of several North American
dog-sled races, taking participants over a gruelling
mile course through Alaska and northern Canada..
along broken snowy
behind some of the toughest, sure-footed little athletes in the
world; the only sounds to be heard are those of crunching snow, the
hiss of the sled's runners
, and the puffing of the team of dogs out
front. This is life on the Yukon Quest, a ten-to-fourteen day dog-sled
race across one of the coldest parts of the world - the northern parts
of North America.
As the teams battle across the frozen
wastes, temperatures can vary from freezing on the warmest of days,
down to -62°C if cold weather really sets in
. Hard packed snow,
, frozen rivers and mountain terrain can make the trail
fast at times, or else slow to a crawl
There are other long-distance sled-dog
races; but none quite like the Yukon Quest, which follows a trail
across some of the most sparsely populated and undeveloped terrain in
North America. Named after the Yukon river, the Quest takes teams from
Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Canada in even-numbered years, and
the other way round over the same route in odd-numbered years - a trail
once followed by miners and trappers on their way to and from the icy
Teams come from all over North America
to take part in this the hardest of sled-dog races. Depending on the year, up to 35
teams take part - each team being composed of a "musher" and up to
Training for the race is long and hard,
and the teams that start out on the Quest in mid February
have been training since August. Dogs and men have to be in tip-top
condition, to confront the 1000 miles of the race, which take them
almost up to the Arctic Circle.
Running 1000 miles - about the same as
running 3 marathons a day for 11 days in a row - would be impossible
for humans; but this is the challenge that faces the dogs. In order to
cover up to 100 miles some days, much of the time in darkness, the
teams generally alternate six to eight hour periods of running and
resting - mushers sleeping on their sleds, the dogs in the snow.
Since the race was first run in 1984, teams and
equipment have improved; in 1984, the winning team completed the race
in just 12 days. For the next twenty-five years, winning times were
mostly ten or eleven days, depending on the weather conditions. But
then, in 2009 Canadian musher Sebastian Schnuelle first finished in
less than 10 days; then five years later American musher Allen Moore
had a winning time of under 8 days and 15 hours.
Though physical fit
ness is of paramount
importance both for dogs and mushers, a musher needs to know his dogs
perfectly before taking them out on such a gruelling
test of endurance.
Performance, nutritional needs, stress symptoms and other aspects of
the dogs' physical and mental conditions need to be precisely assessed
Starting with a maximum of 14 dogs, each
musher has to reach the end with no fewer than 6. Vets are on hand at
check-points along the route to keep detailed track of each animal's
condition; but between check points, it's the musher himself who has
the job of making sure that his animals remain in good form. Blood
tests, urine samples, measurements of weight gain or loss and body
temperature are all carefully examined, to make sure that each animal
remains fit and healthy. Dogs are constantly checked for dehydration
and fatigue - and if there is any doubt about an animal's ability to
continue the race or not, it is dropped off at the first available
The interdependence between a musher and
his animals is total - the dogs relying
totally on their musher to take
care of them, and the musher depending totally on the dogs to get the
sled across the snowy miles, and ultimately to the distant destination.
The Yukon Quest is probably not the only
claimant to the title of "the toughest race in the world". There can be
few others however - if any at all - that can have such a valid claim
to this superlative.
gruelling: demanding - to mush: to drive a dog-sled - trail: track (don't confuse
trial ) - runners: the flat parts under a sled - wastes: empty
terrain - set in: gets established - gravel: small stones and sand -
crawl: very slow pace - course: itinerary - fit: in good form -
paramount: primary - assess: analyse, judge -
pronounced [ri'lai]: depend
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The Yukon Quest
expressions - Find the expressions, used in the text, that could be
rephrased using the following words. The expressions are in order.
can be heard
weather really gets cold.
- lightly inhabited
the opposite direction
- a maximum of 14
- days in a row -
fewer than 6.
- are present
- who has
to make absolutely sure
- about whether an animal can
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copyright Linguapress 1999 - 2015.
Revised 2015 . Originally published in Spectrum, the Advanced level
Republication on other websites or in print is not authorised