Hank DeBruin and Tanya McCready-DeBruin operate Winterdance Dogsled Tours in Haliburton, Ontario, near Algonquin Park. They started running dogs quite by accident about 25 years ago and have been active with both their touring company and running races ever since. Journey of 1000 Miles is the second book to chronicle their attempts at long distance racing in the far north. Hank has run both the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. Iditarod Dream was the story of his failed attempt at that race. This book begins with him still mourning after having come up 300 miles short of a finish.
If you want to read that story, this book offers you a link to a free e-book download at ebook1.winterdance.com.
The current story takes us through the decisions that led Hank to try to run the Yukon Quest, which he and Tanya seem to feel is the harder of the two races. This was in 2011.
The journey begins with the selection of the team, and so chapters two and three contain doggie bios of his potential racers and take us through some of the training before the shorter early winter races that Hank uses to make his final selection.
Following that, it’s off on the 5,000-kilometre cross-country journey to Whitehorse, where the race began that year, and the last-minute busyness of getting ready to hit the trail.
The remaining nine chapters are a travelogue of the race, with engaging vignettes from Braeburn, Carmacks, McCabe Creek, Dawson City and on along the trail.
Some time before Fortymile, in near whiteout conditions, Hank experienced a sort of vision that seemed to augur well for him finishing the race, but he felt odd about it.
“Some of my First Nations friends ask me why I question what I saw, because they don’t. I had
had a dream about Lazer leading us through a storm; then he was in the video at the start of the banquet; then he was on the trail; maybe I don’t need to question the vision any more than that.”
Lazer, an older dog, was not one of those on that year’s Yukon Quest team.
Hank would go on to finish last and collect the Red Lantern in spite of missing the closing banquet. “… some of the other mushers, vets, volunteers, and fans had come from the banquet to cheer us across the finish line. It was a far bigger crowd of people than I was anticipating, to say the least!”
In spite of having done better at this race than at the Iditarod, Hank records that he was bitter for a while. But it turned out the publicity allowed him to develop a side career as a motivational speaker, applying the lessons learned mushing to ideas about team leadership. The epilogue of the book deals with some of these experiences, and before that there’s a four page glossary of mushing terms.
The book ends with a sort of dedication to Lily, one of his oldest and most faithful dogs, who finally retired at the age of 11 after teaching all the kids how the job should be done. Having finished the training, she took the decision to stay behind, out of Hank’s hands, by refusing to leave her kennel when they were getting ready to leave for Alaska for another try at the Iditarod.
After Hank and the team were gone, “Tanya … went to Lilly’s box and opened it and Lily jumped right out and was bouncing around like a puppy.” Thus proving that it was her decision.
Hank would go on to run the Iditarod successfully and actually take home some prize money in 2012. A second Yukon Quest run in 2016 had him dropping out when too many of his dogs had to be left behind. Down to nine dogs, he scratched in Eagle.
From the hints in the text we can expect to read more about those races in subsequent volumes. Should be interesting.