“And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar; And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: ‘Please close that door. It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm — Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm’” . . .
Bradley Farquhar has read and pondered Robert Service’s poem The Cremation of Sam McGee.
And he knows what it’s like to be frozen, exhausted and dehydrated on the back of a sled racing through a land so cold and still that a raven’s call feels as if it could shatter it all.
He’s never looked in the furnace of an abandoned ship to see a friend sitting there cozy and warm like the proponent of Service’s famed ode to the Klondike, but he has hallucinated warm beaches and cities and people who aren’t there in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness.
“It’s the dehydration as much as anything that does it,” said Farquhar during a phone interview. “I think I like the pain that it brings. I like pushing myself.”
On Sunday Farquhar, 31, will become the first Nova Scotian to participate in the 1,609-kilometre Iditarod sled dog race between Anchorage and Nome.
Farquhar and his dogs will travel the route pioneered by men chasing rumours of gold into the wilderness. Leaving Anchorage, they’ll head up through Rainy Pass over the Alaskan Mountain Range and down onto the mighty Yukon River.
He’s there for the experience, not to try and win.
“There are people with decades of experience, I’m not competing with them — that would be like an old Subaru racing a Lamborghini,” said Farquhar.
Lapping up life experience is what the young man from Brooklyn, Hants County, has been doing since selling Sky High Energy, a successful solar panel installation company he co-founded in the United States.
He’s run marathons in the desert, climbed the highest mountain in North America and swam the English Channel.
“I’m just an average dude — I have a belly,” said Farquhar.
“There’s nothing special about me physically but with my mind, I feel like over the different challenges I can more easily jump into that space where you turn off the pain and focus at the task at hand.”
While he’s used to brutalizing himself in front of his mother — Darlene Farquhar travels to all his adventures to lend support — he still had a lot to learn.
For the past two years he’s been training for the Iditarod — learning about how to know and take care of dogs and how to be smart in a hard country that doesn’t suffer fools lightly.
“I get depressed, too,” said Farquhar.
“You get lonely out there, and frustrated. The last thing you want to do when that happens is take it out on the dogs.”
Because just as he reads his team of Alaskan huskies, they read him.
As the race gets nearer so does the end of his time in the North.
“It actually makes me a little sad. I’m starting to miss it already,” said Farquhar.
The top mushers usually complete the race in nine days.
He hopes to manage it in 11.
The other night he slept with 11 sled dogs in his room, all competing for his attention.
He’ll be bringing one home — Jerry — to Nova Scotia.
Because after eight years working in the United States and travelling and adventuring, it’s time to come home.
“I’ve seen a lot of stuff but sometimes you get to a point that you don’t want to be travelling anymore,” said Farquhar.
“I want to spend time with my friends and family.”
Any other plans?
“Other than find a wife and be on Amazing Race Canada, not really.”
“. . . There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold; The Arctic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold; The Northern Lights have seen queer sights, but the queerest they ever did see Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge I cremated Sam McGee.”