Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia man says 'misery I almost crave' pushing him to compete in Iditarod

The Brooklyn, N.S., native has run ultramarathons in South Africa, across the Sahara, and climbed the highest peak in North America. Now he's set to be the first Nova Scotian to race the Iditarod Dog Sled challenge in Alaska.

Bradley Farquhar to face exhaustion, hallucinations and isolation in the 1,600-km sled dog race

Bradley Farquhar clips a dog's nails to get him race-ready in Alaska. (Submitted by Bradley Farquhar)

A Nova Scotian adventurer is days away from starting what's been called the world's last great race: the Iditarod dog sled challenge in Alaska.

​Bradley Farquhar, a 31-year-old from Brooklyn, N.S., will lead a team of 16 dogs 1,600 kilometres through the Alaskan wilderness. He believes he's the first Nova Scotian to take on the extreme race.

I think it's the experience of misery I almost crave.- Bradley Farquhar

"I'll probably finish it — assuming I'm going to finish it — in 10 or 11 days," he told CBC News Monday via video call from Willow, Alaska. "It isn't a goal to win the Iditarod, but to go through this experience and try to get home.

"It just seems like this epic journey where I get to spend all this time with these dogs and see some of the coolest stuff in the world with them."

Hallucinations par for the course

He said the hardest part is making it to the starting line. He had to get 1,100 kilograms of meat and other food airlifted into the race's 18 checkpoints. 

Once the race begins Saturday, he and the dogs will sleep under Alaskan skies, with Farquhar snuggled into a sleeping bag. "It blocks out the wind and a lot of the noise. You're straight-up warm in there!" he said.

Starting in 2015, he learned dog sledding from scratch and completed several qualifying races to earn a spot in the Iditarod. He saw some spectacular things, and not all of them were real.

"I don't do drugs, but I assume it's something similar to the craziest drugs out there," he said of the hallucinations experienced on such extreme tests. On a 482-kilometre race, he saw dog booties growing out of trees.

"You're seeing people on the trail, you're seeing cities, you're seeing beaches with oceans and you're in the middle of Alaska — none of that stuff is there. It's hilarious."

Desert marathons

This isn't Farquhar's first extraordinary adventure. In 2017, he ran the Comrades Marathon across 89 kilometres of South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal Province.

Farquhar has been in Alaska since October to prepare for the race. (CBC)

In 2013, he swam the English Channel. In 2012, he ran the six-day, 250-kilometre Marathon des Sables across the Sahara Desert. He also climbed Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America.

"I think it's the experience of misery I almost crave. The other day, I did a 90-mile [144-kilometre] run with the dogs. On the way back, the dogs are trotting along like it's no big deal, and I'm struggling at the back of the sled, trying to stay awake at four o'clock in the morning because we've been sledding all night," he said.

"That point where your body and mind are about to give up — it's pretty incredible to get to."

Alaskan nights offer some spectacular scenes for those willing to witness them. (Submitted by Bradley Farquhar)

Farquhar said that's the common thread between his adventures: pushing himself to the limit, and then beyond.

"Ultramarathons are awesome, because you get into a zone where you can shut off all your pain and your body just turns into a machine. All you're in is your mind, and you're moving forward. Dog sledding is very similar, but it adds in other elements, like sleep-deprivation, dehydration, the cold, and the fact that you have to manage a group of 16 dogs."

Dogs can quit mid-race

He stepped outside of his temporary home in Willow to introduce the excited dogs. Each has a dog house, but a few opt to sleep outdoors. 

Farquhar gets messages from people concerned about the dogs, but said they're always kept safe and healthy. If one does not want to run any farther, racers can leave it at a checkpoint, where it will get veterinarian care and a trip back to the start line. 

His next adventure will be a little tamer: he's moving home to Nova Scotia, and bringing Jerry, one of his sled dogs, with him.

Bradley Farquhar says the bond mushers form with their dogs is crucial. (Submitted by Bradley Farquhar)