During this time of year, most people are planning a getaway down south to escape the cold. Well, Brad Farquhar is doing the opposite.
The Windsor native, who now resides in San Francisco, will be travelling back to Alaska in January as he prepares to qualify for the Iditarod dog sledding race.
The race takes place every year from different points in Alaska. The race itself usually takes more than a week to finish and can include things like racing overnight or even camping overnight in unbearable conditions.
Now what would possess someone do this race in the dead of winter?
Well, for Farquhar, the idea came from the silver screen.
“When I was eight years old, and there is this one movie called Iron Will I used to love to watch,” says Farquhar.
“It’s a story about a man who enters a dog sledding race to save his family’s farm from going bankrupt. While I don’t need to save the farm, it’s something I wanted to try and right now was the right time to do it.”
Farquhar made a trip last year to Fairbanks, Alaska, for a week and worked with a trainer to see if he wanted to give it a shot. While the experience was fun, he knew it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk.
He has since spent more than $30,000 on the trip, for training and equipment to prepare for what lies ahead.
To qualify for the Iditarod, Farquhar has to complete two 300-mile races and one 200-mile race, with the 300-mile competitions going in the first and second weekends of January. The 200-mile race will happen in the final weekend of the month.
If he is able to complete these races, he will be able to compete in 2018.
The obstacles he has endured during the trip include whiteouts, very little daylight, camping outside and trying to command 12 sled dogs to work together as unit. While these things have proved challenging, the biggest hurdle he is facing is the simplest — the weather.
“People talk about -40 degrees but until you have felt it, you really don’t know what you are talking about. That and sleep deprivation.
“Every week we are running the dogs pretty much everyday and often times we are running them straight through the night.”
Sleep deprivation has been a major problem.
During one run, he was doing an all-night race in -40 degree weather, plus wind chill, and he started to hallucinate. He was seeing tree branches in his path even though the trail he was on was in the middle of the road.
While there are many obstacles he will face as he prepares for what lies ahead, the one thing he needs to focus on more than anything is the dogs themselves.
If an incident was to come up, the dogs can be a liability because you could have as many as 20 out there with you at any given period.
While you have to focus on your survival, you have to care for them as well.
“Any musher will tell you, it’s the most important thing and you just can’t spend money for a dog and expect it to bond with you,” says Farquhar. “You need to spend time with them, feed them, clean up their poop, but most importantly, run them and be on the trail with them, because they will test you.”
While Farquhar has been enjoying the experience, there has been some negative press lately when it comes to the sport.
A recent documentary titled Sled Dogs appeared at the Whistler Film Festival. Toronto filmmaker Fran Levitt made the film to push for better rights for dogs that have been treated inhumanly.
“In dog mushing, horse racing or any sport that involves an animal, you are going to have those outliers and have people that are cruel to them and they are bad people,” says Farquhar.
“Now, I am not saying there is no one out there that doesn’t mistreat the dogs, but the majority, the 99.9 per cent, look at these dogs as family members and treat them with respect and these dogs look at these people as family members as well, and they want to run. They’re excited about it.”
Things will not be easy for Farquhar on the road ahead. More people have actually climbed Mount Everest then have completed the Iditarod.
Either way, it will be the experience of a lifetime.
Credit goes to DEREK LEBLANC