Musher Hans Gatt speaks to the media in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, before dawn on February 25, 2004, after winning his third consecutive Yukon Quest sled-dog race.
I took this photo within a few weeks of getting my first (and, to date, my only) good digital camera. As I did a number of other times while in Alaska, I melded together a work/vacation trip - this time, to cover a high school basketball story in Skagway while also venturing north into the Yukon to catch the end of the Yukon Quest sled-dog race.
My paper didn't generally cover sled-dog races beyond what the AP sent us, because there wasn't much connection to Juneau (little level land = little room for sled-dog events). But, this particular year a musher with a Juneau connection was involved in the race (as a dog handler, not a competitor), and I wanted to see a sled-dog race. And, the Yukon Quest - arguably the second-biggest sled-dog race in the world behind the Iditarod - which switches directions each year, happened to be finishing at the end closest to Juneau - Whitehorse - instead of the other possible ending, in Fairbanks.
So, I headed up into the Yukon in my Saturn sedan in the dead of winter, caught up with the local handler at a checkpoint called Braeburn Lodge, north of Whitehorse, and then headed back to the territorial capital to catch the winner crossing the finish line - Hans Gatt, a well-known musher who that year won the race for the third consecutive time. Because the work I had to do - covering that local connection - was done, I was free to roam around and play "paparazzi" at the finish line, jostling in the crowd to get a good shot of the winner.
I had sent photos to the AP wire before, but I had been using film cameras. So, I'd have to wait a few hours to get the shots developed, and then try to find a place to scan in film or negatives, tone them, and then post them. This time was my first experience with digital - I uploaded the photos to my laptop, worked them up and sent them to AP in a fraction of the time.
The photo above was one of the first - if not the first - finish photos on the wire, and as such got picked up by the Anchorage paper and one of the big papers in Vancouver (the Province, the tabloid-y one, which used my photo big with the headline "Praise be to Gatt").
The experience really drove home the possibilities that digital photos opened up - and was doubly cool because I got to see my photo used in other papers. It wasn't the New York Times, but ... a paper in the U.S., a paper in Canada - I guess I can say that my photo was seen by an international audience.