Quince Mountain Races Toward Connection
The dog musher got into the sport by accident and stayed for the community he found in the Alaskan backcountry
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Quince Mountain told his story to producer Ann Marie Awad for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It has been edited for length and clarity.
My wife Blair always talks about how the wilderness doesn’t care about you. There’s a thunderstorm, it’s not there to make you afraid or even an animal who’s chasing you. It’s not personal.
That was kind of nice when I was a person who grew up suffering, often in very deliberate ways, because of classmates and other kids who were pretty awful to me.
I found solace in the indifference of the wilderness. But I think what I had to learn to do later was connect with other people and trust other people.
My friends call me Q. I live in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. I’m a dog musher and an outdoor educator who works online. I think of it as edutainment, I guess, and I get the privilege along with my wife, Blair Braverman, and our 25 sled dogs, of sharing the story of our journeys and the people we meet on Patreon and Twitter and other social media. It’s a lot of fun.
This is gonna sound funny, but I didn’t set out to be a professional dog sledder or go in the Iditarod or anything like that. It just kind of happened. I just fell in love with Blair, and it was something she had done.
Dog mushing is something that turns adults into children. If you think about sledding, you see people sled down a hill, how fun that is. The dogs are just pulling you. I dare you to get on the runners of a dog sled with a decent team on a bluebird day and not fall in love with it.
I’ve always loved animals, too. Some of that I think comes from a person who grew up with social difficulties with people. People know I’m trans; I’m very, uh, public as a trans person. But I’m also not neurotypical. So, I had a lot of social difficulties and a lot of sensory difficulties as a kid. It was just easier to understand the intentions of the animals around me.
It’s such a collaboration. When I’m out at night with the dogs, crossing a mountain range or something, people will say, “Well, how can you do that? How can you be out there by yourself?” But I’m not by myself. I’m with 14 of my best friends.
There was this moment at this dog led race near Kotzebue, Alaska. I wasn’t actually in this race, my wife was, and she didn’t need my support. I just sort of had a few days off, and I ended up renting a snow machine or a snowmobile with a photographer, Katie Olinsky. Katie and I took this snow machine and we followed a little bit behind the race, and we went to this town called Noorvik. There’s no road. You don’t take a car there. You can fly there, you can take a snowmobile there. You can take a dog sled there.
We went across the street to check out the checkpoint in this community building. And of course they had put out this beautiful spread of food. There’s moose stew and chili and coffee, and all this stuff. Just feeding the mushers. I saw, in one corner of the building, there were some people working on some kind of carpentry project with some wood. There’s a woman there, and she just starts wailing, crying. The saddest sound.
It’s kind of awkward because we’re outsiders. We don’t know what’s going on, but I’m not gonna pretend it’s not happening. So I just wanted to say, “Hey, do you care to share what’s happening?” She had lost a grandson, I believe. They were getting ready to have this service. That’s what people had been building in the corner, the carpenters were working on a casket for this young man.
Then there’s a knock at the door, and it’s like a hunter who lives in the village. They had shot a moose, but it was not the season to do that, so I was kind of curious about it. It’s not really my business, but somebody just mentioned to me, “Oh, well Fish and Game authorizes us to go get these animals, because there’s a food shortage.”
I thought, There’s a food shortage, and these people had been entertaining the mushers, feeding everybody, building a casket, planning for a funeral, all these things. And the mushers didn’t even know it. I just thought, Wow, that is a community that can hold so much.
The race goes in a loop and then comes back through this community a few days later. So they said, “Well, come on your way back, we’re gonna give you some stew meat.” And I said, “No thanks. We don’t need that. We’ll be okay. I appreciate the offer.” But they weren’t taking no for an answer.
A couple days later we’re riding back, and go through this village at three o’clock in the morning. Just crawling through slowly on our snow machine, not to make any noise, and we’re not gonna stop. It’s three o’clock in the morning, you know? But sure enough, this woman runs out of the community center and brings Katie and I this cooler of stew meat and just insists that we have some of it. And I thought, This is what this is about.
This isn’t about times or days. I don’t remember who came in what place in the race. Actually, my wife had a top five finish. It was amazing, but that’s not the point.
As a trans person, I’ve gone down to the Wisconsin State Capitol, and I’ve been to these debates about trans inclusion in sports and so on. It was just a half hour of somebody reading the high jump records from New Mexico from last year, and when this person went through transition, look how much better their scores got, and what’s that gonna do for the sport? I’m like, This is so missing the point. Sports for most people isn’t about a college scholarship or becoming a professional anything like that. It’s about the connections we make. I wish we could begin to have this conversation, not in terms of competitive advantage, but in terms of belonging.
I happen to be in a sport that men and women can be in and it doesn’t matter. So it doesn’t matter in that sense that I’m trans, nobody’s checking my gender card. Being able to be a part of something competitive at an elite level without having to worry that being trans will disqualify me has given me the perspective about how important it is that people are able to participate in the sports that they’re working on, that they care about, in the communities where they belong, being who they are.
I think here’s what I want to tell trans people and trans young people. Trans people, people who don’t fit in in all kinds of ways, and who doubt their own validity, and try to figure out where they belong, and maybe feel like they landed in a spaceship in their family and in a community, and no one’s like them, or a few people are, and they’re trying to find their way…people like us have been here for hundreds of years, thousands of years. We’ve been here for millennia in human history, and somehow a lot of us have found ways to survive. We’ve found ways to find each other. So I want you to be able to find your people that you can trust, whether they’re adults, they’re other kids, whoever.
If you feel that love and openness from people, move toward that. And you’ll be able to get through this. I don’t know how, but there’s gonna be a way, it’s gonna open up. It’s not gonna come from politicians, or your school principal, or your teacher, or me, or anyone else. It’s just gonna be a journey that you find and it’s gonna be a really cool one, and I hope you stick around for it.
I want to hear about it.
Quince Mountain is an outdoor educator and dog musher living in Wisconsin. He is one half of the BraverMountain mushing team with his wife, Blair Braverman. Quince is the first openly trans person to compete in the Iditarod and on the reality TV show Naked and Afraid. Learn more about Quince at patreon.com/bravermountain.