When Kathy Beaupré tried dogsledding for the first time – in Ontario in 1998 – she fell in love with it and gathered together an unlikely team of two Alaskan huskies, a collie mix, and a whippet.
Beaupré calls that first team her “motley crew.” The approach stuck with her as she moved from Ontario to Fort Smith, NWT in 2004. Now, she lives between Enterprise and Hay River with six sled dogs, five house dogs, four lizards, two snakes, and a cat named Winston.
For the past two decades, dogsledding has shaped how Beaupré lives her life. It’s why she chose to live in the NWT.
Though “not competitive” by her own admission, she turns up on many start lines regardless. Her favourite race is the annual Under Dog 100, a race near Yellowknife designed to promote smaller kennel owners. This year’s edition takes place on Saturday, March 26.
“I haven’t done one in six years,” Beaupré explains. “Life just happens. I have three boys and they have kids, and you get busy doing other stuff.
“I decided, ‘You know what? I’m going to do this one.’”
The Under Dog 100 was founded by Marcel Marin in 2005 as a way to bring distance racing to the territory while giving teams of all experience levels a chance.
Marin has been a musher since he was a teenager in Rankin Inlet. He has experience in distance races like the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest.
According to Marin, the spirit of the Under Dog 100 lies in its unpredictability: anyone can win, he says, and past races suggest it’s often those you least expect.
“It gives an underdog a chance,” he said. “Sometimes, we have high-end guys that come – big names in the sport – and they get beaten by people that you’ve never heard of before.”
He chuckled: “Usually, the big names never come back after that happens.”
Beaupré calls Marin her mentor.
“He’s the best person to learn from. He’s always there, he’s always encouraging,” she says. “I think he’s amazing.”
Saturday’s race starts at 9am. It begins just outside Yellowknife and finishes at the North Arm Territorial Park along Highway 3.
This year, there are just three entrants so far: Marin, Beaupré, and Richard McIntosh of Sundog Adventures in Yellowknife. Though much smaller than the usual 10 teams, Marin says the race will run regardless.
The usual 100-mile distance has been dropped to 50 miles for Saturday’s race. Marin predicts the winning time will be about five to six hours.
Beaupré’s only goal is to finish.
“I always come in third or fourth,” she laughs. “It doesn’t seem to matter how many people there are. This year, there’s only three, so I’ll be third.”
Though the race is almost a week away, Beaupré is packed and ready to go. She has been taking her dogs on trails north of Enterprise to build up their muscle.
There are six Alaskan huskies on the team – six and a half if you count Peanut, Beaupré jokes, who is 30 pounds and has retired from racing.
While it’s been her lifestyle for two decades, mushing now has deeper meaning for Beaupré.
Three years ago, she lost granddaughter Lily to Niemann-Pick disease – a rare neurological illness that develops in small children and causes a gradual deterioration of the nervous system.
Lily was three and a half years old when she passed away.
Beaupré carries a picture of Lily when she takes the dogs for a run.
“She taught my whole family what life is about because in her short little life, she had a lot of experiences,” Beaupré says.
“I think she’s looking down on me every time.”
Beaupré herself has struggled with long-term health issues, battling breast cancer in the past.
“In any sport, you have injuries and things,” she says, “so you just need to find a way to get past that.
“Some times are a bit more challenging than others but, if you want to do it, there’s a way to do it.”