Local musher begins Yukon Quest
By Angelica Ingram
It won’t be Hank DeBruin’s first time embarking on a 1,000 mile (1,600 kilometre) trek across the tundra, but that doesn’t make the task any less daunting.
To say the quiet, 53-year-old musher has been thinking about the Yukon Quest for the past couple of months is a understatement.
The owner/operator of Winterdance Dogsled Tours, a 20-year-old business he runs with his wife Tanya McCready-DeBruin, DeBruin has been intently focused on the race, which begins in Fairbanks, Alaska, and ends in Whitehorse, since he began training last fall.
With the race beginning on Feb. 6, it is DeBruin’s goal to finish the quest in 11 days and place in the top 10.
With a maximum of 50 mushers allowed to enter the Yukon Quest, only 25 have signed up this year, a testament to how gruelling the race can be, both physically and mentally.
In preparation for the feat, DeBruin has been taking his team of Siberian huskies out for 50-plus mile runs since September, he told the Echo.
While training started well, the mild winter weather hindered the process in December.
“The team should have been doing 50-plus mile runs then but just couldn’t because it was a) too warm and b) the dirt is far more abrasive on their feet than snow so you just can’t run that far,” wrote McCready-DeBruin in an email to the Echo. “So while we have more miles on the team than we have in our first 1,000 mile races, it is less than he [DeBruin] had hoped.”
DeBruin and his brother-in-law began their trip to Alaska for the race last week, with McCready-DeBruin planning on meeting them in the coming days.
While the race officially starts on Feb. 6, there are pre-race events such as a banquet that determines what order the racers start in, which mushers must attend.
After that it’s game time.
“Friday [Feb. 5] will have the team go for a quick 20 or so mile training run and then packing the sled and getting any last minute items together before hopefully a good night’s sleep,” said McCready-DeBruin. “Saturday morning we will be at the start line and from then on Hank and the team will only focus on the trail and the next few miles. The team will cover 100 to 120 miles a day and eat 10,000 calories a day. Hank will sleep about two hours a day. Ward and I will focus on getting to each checkpoint before they do, looking after any dogs that Hank drops from the team and cleaning up straw/supplies, etc. that he leaves behind when he departs a checkpoint. As Hank gets more tired we are also there to offer advice, encouragement and remind him to look after himself. However we cannot physically help him in any way, we are not even allowed to touch the dogs that are still racing.”
In the days leading up to his departure DeBruin was still unsure of which 14 huskies would make the final cut for the team, as he had been training approximately 17 for the race. If a dog gets injured or sick during the Yukon Quest, it cannot be replaced.
DeBruin announced his team via Twitter while on the road to Alaska, with the final selection including Aster, Hosta, Blitz, Charlie, Scully, Maverick, Zeus, K2, Viper, Jester, Jed, Wyatt, Howler and Garrett.
Many of the team members, such as Maverick, are veterans at racing, making the decision of which ones to choose that much harder, said McCready-DeBruin.
A vet check by Haliburton’s Laurie Brown prior to the departure gave DeBruin peace of mind knowing all of his dogs were in top shape and meant they could bypass the race check.
In the weeks leading up to his departure from Haliburton County, DeBruin was feeling both excited and worried about way lay ahead of him.
McCready-DeBruin felt similarly, but also is very worried about her husband as he embarks on the gruelling adventure.
“Leaving is always very hard, but once there it is easy to be engulfed in Hank’s race, the dogs, the amazing event called the Yukon Quest and the incredible scenery and people that make the event what it is,” she wrote. “I worry a fair bit too - about Hank and the dogs, and about what is going on back home. You also become fast friends with handlers from other teams so worry for their mushers if they haven’t moved in a while or push an emergency button on their GPS.”
The Yukon Quest has taken place every February for more than 30 years, with mushers travelling the distance across wilderness trail.
According to the race’s official website, the Yukon Quest takes place regardless of weather conditions and is typically completed in nine to 14 days.
When DeBruin ran the Yukon Quest in 2014 he placed eighth, completing the quest in just under 13 days. Racers come from all over the world.
This year the team from Winterdance Dogsled Tours will be taking Marilyn Hubley with them, after she won a contest that earned her a trip to the Quest.
A longtime supporter of DeBruin and his business, Hubley was “over the moon” when her name was pulled, said McCready-DeBruin.
“Marilyn has supported our team since the very first Iditarod in 2010 and volunteers at the Dogsled Derby as well, so it was so nice to see her win,” said McCready-DeBruin.
To follow along with DeBruin as he takes on the Yukon Quest, visit Winterdance’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/winterdancedogsledtours.
Results and tracking will also be posted on the official Yukon Quest page at www.yukonquest.com.
Anyone interested in sponsoring DeBruin and his team can do so by visiting www.gofundme.com/winterdancequest.