By Darren Lum
Nov. 22 2016
In front of the Haliburton Highlands Secondary School on the windy shore of Head Lake Logan McCready-DeBruin a tall and lanky senior with shoulder length brown hair tied at the back and a sparsely grown moustache is excited about being able to live out a childhood dream to compete in the upcoming 150- mile Jr. Iditarod dogsled race.
You could say he was born to mush. When he was a baby he rode for his first time in a dogsled and then raced a year later.
The eldest of four children in a family with an ever-growing pack of dogs has lived and breathed dogsledding.
It’s hard not to when the family business is the dogsled tour operation Winterdance Dogsled Tours.
To most people spending weeks in the Alaskan wilderness with nothing but your dog team and your wits is not exactly at the top of their bucket lists. However for McCready-DeBruin it’s something he has dreamed about since he was five having been inspired by his father.
His dad a dogsled veteran with experience competing in the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest not only inspired him but showed him the resolve it takes to compete.
The teen remembers being in the truck driving across Canada to the see his dad compete in his first Iditarod in 2010 feeling a little envious.
“When I was 10 and drove with him and my uncle and brother to his first Iditarod I was jealous of the adventure he was about to have and the adventures he has had since then in other races” he wrote in an email. “I have been fortunate to get to go along to races with him in Alaska Hudson Bay Michigan and Maine. [However] I think I would rather be racing than waiting for him and the team though! When his first Iditarod didn’t go as planned he didn’t give up he went back and tried again and finished.”
His dad has a unique bond with his dogs that his son respects and admires.
The things he loves is “seeing him with the dogs the bond he has with them and how much they love him. The way he lives to challenge himself and our dogs in these races to learn more and do better with every one” he said.
Parents Tanya and Hank have always been the teen’s biggest boosters and living examples to chase dreams.
“He and Mom have always encouraged all of us to chase our dreams like they have chased theirs and I have dreamed of running the Junior Iditarod for as long as I can remember” he said.
The teenager is appreciative of his parents for their resourcefulness in competing in the Iditarod and the equally epic if not less well-known Yukon Quest.
“I am lucky that I have Dad to teach me how to run distance races. He and Mom had to figure it out on their own as there are only two or three folks from Ontario who have ever run the Iditarod and no one from Ontario had finished the Yukon Quest” he said.
Discipline and hard work isn’t new to the teen who has helped to run the family business and holds a black belt in karate. Preparation is essential for an event like this that will take the teen and his dogs through some spectacular but unforgiving terrain. Training won’t make this year much different from other years.
“I guess in a way I have been training for this race for years. All of the dogs on the race team were all born here and my brother and sisters and I raised them from puppies. They are like siblings to us. It is of course all about the dogs. They are always the most important part of all of this: that they are happy and having fun” he said.
For the last four weeks after school in the middle of the night Logan has gone out with his dad who is also training to compete in the 1000-mile dogsled race the Yukon Quest on Feb.4 to run his dogs at least two hours a night covering distances close to 14 miles with the dogs pulling an ATV. The distance will be increased progressively until they reach a total distance of 2000 miles before race day. The team and Logan are expected to be in Alaska before competition to acclimatize to the weather.
At 17 this is McCready-DeBruin’s last year of eligibility.
“I just turned 17 so this is my last chance to do it and I’ve been wanting to for years! So it was now or never and my parents encouraged me to go for it” he said.
Before his parents lived out their dreams to race he was just as caught up in the same excitement.
“I can remember watching tons of videos on the Iditarod with Dad and Mom. I think it just seemed a given that if Dad was going to run the Iditarod (and of course he did) then I should run the Junior Iditarod. I love the dogs and love dogsledding plus like Dad I enjoy being in the wilderness on my own with the dogs” he said.
As much as Logan will be drawing upon the lessons learned from his father he will be forging his own path.
Attitude and the ability to adapt are key to being able to race in these kind of endurance races he said.
“You certainly can’t be afraid or uncomfortable being on your own in the wilderness or you just aren’t going to have much fun. You also need to be able to stay in a positive mood even when you are tired or things aren’t going well as the dogs totally feed off the musher’s emotions” he said. “You don’t get to sleep a lot when doing distance racing so it is important to be able to handle little sleep and still be able to think rationally. Critical thinking skills are also probably helpful as sometimes things happen that you need to deal with quickly.”
The teen isn’t boisterous or arrogant. He knows from seeing his father training and racing what competitions like the Iditarod even this junior version requires of him.
“Running distance races you need to be sure you can look after yourself and your dogs and I feel what I have done up until now has helped me feel confident in both. Last year when we had poor snow and trail [conditions] in the early part of the winter Dad couldn’t train his big team by himself as the trails were too dangerous for a team of 16 so we split the team up. He would take 10 and I would take eight and we would head out many evenings for 20- to 50-mile runs. That certainly helped build my confidence in handling a big team on tough trails and also running at night” he said.
Thus far the Jr. Iditarod organizers have not confirmed the final format of the race which will start on Saturday Feb. 25 at 10 a.m. at Knik Lake. Five mushers have registered including McCready-DeBruin.
There are three options being considered. Currently competitors race for 75 miles before they must rest for 10 hours. The other option is to divide the total distance into three 50-mile segments and enforce a five-hour rest between each. The last option is run the three segment race but allow the mushers the choice of how and when to use their required 10 hours of rest.
He prefers the option that is most suitable for his dogs which is the version with the shorter mileage between rest days.
With an expected absence of five weeks from school McCready DeBruin is ready to do a lot of work from where he is or on the road to enable him to graduate with his class.
The biggest challenges he anticipates are running the dogs at night and moose.
For him the goal is to finish with all of his team who he wants to be a “happy healthy dog team.”
“But I also want to have fun and see what it’s like to do longer races … I look forward to meeting other youth who love the dogs and dogsledding as much as I do as well.”