Glenwood Springs musher set to tackle 1,000-mile Yukon Quest race for fourth time
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” For the last nine years, each fall and early winter was spent getting ready for some of the most grueling miles put before man and his best friend ” long-distance dog sled racing.
Bill Pinkham, 50, of Glenwood Springs, will be taking his sled dog team on yet another adventure. He has racked up five Iditarods and this year will tackle his fourth Yukon Quest. Both races are longer than 1,000 miles, so he’s spent a lot of time behind his team of Alaskan Huskies.
Pinkham left Sunday to get a head start on the race that begins on Feb. 14 in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and finishes in Fairbanks, Alaska. He has to make sure all the food drops for the dogs and himself are scheduled correctly and his gear is in place before the days of racing ahead of him.
Last year he finished in 10th place in 12 days, nine hours, and 12 minutes. The winning time came in around 10 days, 12 hours. Pinkham’s shooting for the 10-and-a-half day mark.
There’s no telling what kind of weather he’ll run into on the journey, but it really doesn’t matter.
“I don’t worry about the weather,” he said. “I can’t do anything about that. I’ll just go out there and run the race that we run.”
Pinkham has always had a love of animals, dogs, and just being outdoors. While mushing, he’s able to see a lot of country that usually isn’t seen, except when the sled teams are coming through for whatever race it may be.
Pinkham started touring in 1994, and four years later he had his own dogs.
“It’s that romantic idea that something’s out there,” he said.
Every day, while on the trail or around his kennels, he has to make sure his dogs are fed, coats are clean, and feet aren’t cut up. His dogs can consume anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 calories a day, depending on how hard he’s running them and what the weather is like.
Pinkham will have 14 dogs in front of him for the Quest, two less than the Iditarod. Last year’s team was a young one, but this year most of the Huskies are 2-6 years old, with an 8- and 10-year-old as the veterans.
The dogs can be pretty tired at the end of a run, but they’re made to do this, humans aren’t. Being on the trail for more than 10 days can really take a toll on the body.
“It’s just a 24-hour clock,” Pinkham said. “We don’t really stop. Your body is sleep deprived, and the cold’s taking it out of you.”
He’s picked up a lot from being around his dogs so much, but one of the first things he mentioned was patience. That sure can be helpful when the checkpoints seem so far away.
“I’ve learned lots of things, some not even verbal, you can’t even express,” he said. “They’ve given me patience, compassion, and just to enjoy what I’m doing. They’re just always happy, it’s contagious.”
“When you actually get out on the trail, just having the dogs happy and running smooth, you feel fortunate to be doing this,” he added.
Over the 1,000-plus miles, his team will make around 20 runs, 50 miles each stretch. But Pinkham and his team won’t be alone. He’ll have the help of his wife, Jodi Swanson-Pinkham, who’s tagged along for a couple of northern trips and is an integral part of keeping the team going.
“I have great support with Jodi,” Pinkham said. “She’s somebody that I trust and want to be with. She really knows what she’s doing.”
At last year’s closing banquet at the Yukon Quest, Pinkham proposed to Jodi. After how he described it, planning for a wedding wasn’t a daunting task. They had four months to line up a July wedding after getting back.
“It went great,” he said. “We vowed to each other that there wouldn’t be too much stress.”
The wedding’s behind them, but the Quest is about to start. There’s bound to be some stress for the both of them over the next month.
“The main focus is to enjoy it,” Pinkham said. “I feel good now and the dogs look just fine, so barring any major things I’ve just got to stay focused on one stage at a time.”
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As the heat of the summer gives way to cooler mornings, summer trail race opportunities are slowly coming to an end.