By Darren Lum
Winterdance Dogsled Tours’ Hank DeBruin and Tanya McCready don’t believe in failure. There are only setbacks.
Ever since they quit their jobs 20 years ago, the couple have followed their passion for the outdoors and love of dogs to the Highlands. They’ve overcome challenges, establishing a successful tourism operation drawing people from around the world to experience a highlight of winter in the Highlands.
This spirit comes through with their newest book, Journey of 1000 Miles.
It begins where their first book The Iditarod Dreamer leaves off, when Hank was experiencing the pain of disappointment after not being able to finish the 2010 Iditarod for himself, his team of dogs and community of supporters who helped him get to the start line.
The book delves into the mental journey Hank went through to find the strength to move forward successfully in racing, but also in work and life. Questions like “Am I enough?” McCready said. “That’s ultimately what it comes down to.”
It also provides a comprehensive description of the preparation necessary to race the 2011 Yukon Quest. McCready said writing this book, which took a year to complete, was a challenge since it had been so long since the Yukon Quest race. Anyone who has met DeBruin knows he is a man of few words, reserving his energy for action and, unless a person is close, he keeps emotions close to the vest. A book for the world to read, revealing his inner psyche is a big ask.
McCready said DeBruin’s willingness to show his vulnerability was important. He believed, she said, that if his story could provide inspiration for others to overcome their own challenges it would be worth it.
DeBruin found not only redemption in completing the 2011 Yukon Quest, but gained knowledge and perspective about life not only from his triumph, but from the support required from his race crew, including McCready, his four children, and the community.
Though it may seem that DeBruin is extraordinary for his ability to complete multiple 1,000-mile races in blizzards and -60C temperatures, he deflects credit, saying anyone with the right mindset can do it.
“Anyone who has the dream to do that can if they are willing to put in the work and time to learn, train and gain the skills needed, and has a 150 per cent commitment to accomplishing it,” he said via email. “But it is also a metaphor for chasing a dream that anyone has.” McCready added: “Hank says he doesn’t feel special because this is just our life and what we do every day. We work with dogs seven days a week and travelling with them is the ultimate joy. He says there is nothing special about him, it is the dogs and what they are and what they do that is the magic.”
Free webinars with the couple are currently being offered in the lead up to the electronic version of the book’s release in a few weeks, called Stories and Lessons from the Yukon Quest Trail to Help You Come Out Stronger on the Other Side of the Pandemic.
Although the dogsled tour company experienced an early finish to their season in March, they are enjoying record-setting bookings up to this point in the year for the coming operating season, which has been primarily visitors from within Ontario due to travel restriction. McCready said they are optimistic about the bookings, but in case there is another shutdown with rising COVID-19 numbers, they are also focusing on building their online presence. They are aiming to draw more corporate clients with webinars, teaching the lessons they learned competing in epic dogsled races. There is a correlation between aspects of leadership and teamwork of a dogsled team, made up of different personalities, and what it takes to lead a team of people in business.
“Tanya always reminds me that my mindset affects the dogs more than I often realize,” DeBruin says in the book’s fourth chapter. “She says she can be 1,000 miles away and look at my spot tracker (if I have one) during a race, and watching the speed the team is moving at, taking into account conditions and terrain, and know exactly what my mindset it. The dogs, like any team, be it your family, co-workers, employees a sports team, feed off the energy of their leader.”
This book is more than a descriptive tale of overcoming adversity. It is about where your passion can take you if you take that first step, whether you took two steps back to get there.
In chapter four, The Magic Carpet Ride, DeBruin says, “One of my favourite scenes in my life is standing on our front porch on a winter’s night, looking in the front door and seeing the welcoming warmth of a roaring fire in the fireplace, kids, Spot and the cats ripping around and Tanya in the middle of it all. Growing up with 10 siblings, life was always a beehive of activity and while four children is a lot less than 11, between the business, the kids and all our animals, life is certainly never dull or quiet and neither Tanya or I would have it any other way. We love the crazy, busy, beautiful messiness of it all.”
Journey of 1000 Miles will be available as an e-book with colour photos on Amazon in three or four weeks and then be available in print with black and white photos in February. Buy the book locally at Master’s Book Store in Haliburton, or through the mail from Amazon. See the Winterdance website www.winterdance.com for more information.
Webinars are on Tuesday, Nov. 17 and Monday, Nov. 23. Space is limited so pre-register. To join see the Winterdance Dogsled Tours’ Facebook page www.facebook.com/winterdancedogsledtours.