"We’re gonna be dead longer than we’re alive," Doug reminds us, "so let’s have fun…let’s get her done."
Doug Butler is a quirky old Vermont farmer in a race against time. With his health declining and his dairy farm in trouble, Doug is hell-bent on achieving his two lifelong dreams: passing on the family farm to his son and winning the dog mushing world championships. He's the underdog, but the kind you want to root for.
Training fifty canine athletes after a 12-hour workday demands a rare combination of dedication and madness. For decades this has been Doug’s unique escape from the harsh realities of farming, fine-tuning his team through subzero temperatures on a trail surrounding his farm in giddy anticipation of the next race. At the age of 62, Doug is often asked if he’s slowing down. His response is simple and direct, "that’s for old people."
But the deep lines on his weathered face tell the truth: a life of hard labor has taken its toll. In the last five years the Butler’s have doubled their herd size from 300 to 600, but not by choice. As mega-farms with thousands of cattle begin to dominate the landscape, milk prices continue to drop, forcing Doug and his son to increase herd numbers without increasing their staff. Still the farm loses money every month—it's threads of control steadily unwinding.
It’s clear that maintaining a fifty dog team and running a family farm have both become unsustainable—pushing Doug’s body and business to the brink of failure. Yet the man refuses to quit. This year, Doug is determined to not only continue, but to both win the dogsledding world championships and pass off a viable family farm to his son. He’s the underdog, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
Doug has fifty dogs. Yeah, you read that right—FIFTY DOGS.
Doug is a sprint dog racer, a sport that requires different skills from the tests of endurance seen at races like the Iditarod. Sprint dog racing, as Doug puts it “is all about the speed, baby.” It’s simple—place a sled, a driver, and as many dogs as you can handle on a snow-covered trail and let ‘em rip. The best combined time over three races wins. And Doug has won…a lot. Over forty years he has become one of the most notorious mushers on the New England and Quebec circuits—known for his legendary stock of dogs and uncanny ability to drink Budweiser on the race course. But there's one race that has only lived in his dreams.
You: "So is this, like, the Iditarod?"
Doug: "Hell no! This ain't no goddamn old folks home. I race for the speed, baby."
The Open North American in Fairbanks, Alaska is not your average race. This three-day battle pits fifteen of the world’s best mushers against each other on a 22-mile trail, snaking down city streets and across frozen lakes in front of thousands of fans. Doug has qualified many times before but has never been able to "kick spandex-wearin’ European ass" because, as a farmer, he is tied to the land. This year, however, Doug will have his first chance to reach the starting line by realizing another lifelong dream—passing the family farm to the next generation of Butlers.