By Darren Lum
Published March 21 2017
Epic races like the Jr. Iditarod are filled with excitement amazement and situations that demand difficult choices.
Haliburton’s Logan McCready-DeBruin knows first-hand after competing in the 150-mile long-distance two-day race for boys and girls aged 14 to 17 years old across the Alaska wilderness.
Although he didn’t officially finish that didn’t rob him of the satisfaction of crossing the finish line on Sunday Feb. 26.
The Haliburton Highlands Secondary School senior said his team was running well after 60 miles when his dog K2 had a seizure close to the halfway point of the race between Eagle Song and the layover stop of Yentna Station Alaska. He went to his dog and then put him in the sled bag.
By the time he secured him the rest of his team wanted to rest. While waiting Logan began to worry and pushed his distress button for help knowing he was at least 10 miles from checkpoints in either direction and uncertain which checkpoint would have the closest veterinarian.
“The rules of the race state if you push the distress button for any reason you are automatically disqualified so from that point on no matter what happened I was not going to officially finish the race” Logan wrote in an email. “The trail crew came out to see what was wrong and said turning around was going to get us to a vet fastest so that is what we did.”
The veterinarian didn’t discover what caused K2’s seizure. The dog has not had any problems since the race.
The initial plan was to fly the dog team with Logan out of Eagle Song the next morning. But heavy fog which could persist for a day there prevented the plane from landing.
“While the host family at Eagle Song were very kind and welcoming waiting there didn’t sound like much fun for a day or more so I decided to hook up the team and run to the finish line. [I’m] glad we did as we had a fun run that day and ended up covering all but about 20 miles of the race. K2 did not join us that day. He got snowmobiled out with the veterinarian in a special trailer for dogs made to be pulled by the snow machine. K2 arrived at the finish line about 30 minutes before the rest of the team and I did. While we didn’t officially finish the race it felt like we did crossing under the finish line” he said.
It was his first attempt and last year of eligibility for the race with a field of 13 youth competitors.
Despite Logan’s disqualification he has no regrets and if he had to do it all again he would do it the same way.
“A mushers’ first priority is always to their dogs and while I would have loved to officially finish the race K2 or any of the dogs on my team are more important than any finish line” he said. “For a while that night I camped I was wondering if I over-reacted if I could have just put K2 in my sled bag and continued on to the halfway point.
“But hindsight is [20/20] and I had no way of knowing K2 would be fine an hour later. If it were to happen in another race I would make the same decision again rather than put the health of one of my dogs at risk.”
Once he knew K2 was fine and his dogs had been fed and were asleep he called his parents close to 1 a.m.
His father assured him “there are lots of other races Logan but only one K2.”
“He was right” Logan said.
Being the son of veteran musher Hank DeBruin Logan is used to being the spectator. His dad not so much. His mother Tanya and uncle Ward teased Hank about the role-reversal.
They “were teasing me about how hard it is to sit watch trackers and worry. They weren’t wrong! I had a hard time leaving the computer where I could watch his and the team’s progress” Hank said.
“That night when they slowed down stopped and then eventually started heading back to the checkpoint were some of the longest in my life. It is easy to be out on the trail and deal with things as they happen as you are dealing with them. Sitting worrying watching and thinking of what could be happening out there and helpless to do anything was a tough thing to sit through” he wrote in an email.
Hank credited his son with sound judgement.
“We are incredibly proud of him for all the training and work he did to get to the start line for putting K2 first and for taking the team to the finish line the next day even though he wouldn’t be recognized officially for doing so” he said.
Tanya is often supporting her husband in races such as the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod meeting Hank at checkpoints and following along with Ward. However even with that experience and the knowledge that help was always nearby for her eldest son it was still difficult particularly when the tracker showed a lack of forward progress.
“It was not as bad as when Hank is racing on the whole as we knew the mushers were very well supported by snowmobile crews and volunteers and were never more than 15 to 20 miles from assistance but when we saw Logan’s tracker slow down stop and then start heading backwards it was a very long worrisome couple of hours” she wrote in an email.
“About two hours in we were contacted by the race [officials] and let us know that he had pushed his distress button but it was another hour before we knew why. Like Hank I know Logan is very capable in the wilderness to look after himself and his dogs but many things go through your head as you wait and worry” she said.
For all the disappointment Logan will always remember the pride he felt as a Canadian.
Logan was awed when he saw his country’s flag at the start/finish line knowing he was only the second Canadian team to have raced in the event since it started in 1978.
“Being out on the Iditarod trail with my dogs was a dream come true. My favourite memory was the night I spent camping with them though all of us curled up in straw sleeping under the Alaskan night sky” he wrote.