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Squamish man first Canadian to be chosen for the Fjällräven Polar expedition

Brackendale's Dan Van Drunen headed to the Scandinavian Arctic
Squamish's Dan Van Drunen is heading to the Scandinavian Arctic this March.

Well, the odds were against him, but he got his wish. It is going to be an extra chilly spring for Brackendale's Dan Van Drunen.

The information technology professional has been chosen for the 2020 Fjällräven Polar expedition.

He was selected to represent North America on the 300-kilometre dog-powered expedition through the Scandinavian Arctic, it was announced Dec. 13.

More than 1,280 people worldwide applied, 120 from North America, and Drunen was one of  the 11 who was chosen by the Fjällräven Polar jury.

Van Drunen is the first Canadian selected to participate in this expedition.

[Eleven other winners, chosen by a tally of public online votes, will be announced, Jan. 7.]

"I want to do my best to represent North America, but especially Canada. I am extremely patriotic," he told The Chief just days after the announcement of his selection.

Of course, he also aims to do Squamish proud.

"In my video [application] I talked about Squamish and moving to Squamish and it is super special to me," he said.

To watch the announcement of winners Friday, Van Drunen set himself up in a Fjällräven retail store in Ottawa, where he had travelled for work.

Representatives of Fjällräven, a Swedish company that sells outdoor equipment — mostly high-end clothing and backpacks — read off the names of those selected in a livestream from Amsterdam.

The feed was very choppy, which meant he almost missed his name being called.

"I didn't hear them say the names and all the places. All I heard was my name.... I was freaking out. I started crying. The [women] working at the store were saying, 'You won! You won!.'"

He added that the rush of emotion at hearing the news was overwhelming, especially since he was picked by the jury, which meant his application resonated with the members who hand-picked him to represent North America.

"That was super special because it meant my message and who I am — they wanted me on this journey with them," he said.

The two messages he has been highlighting during the campaign period were: keeping wild places wild, and the benefits of nature on mental health.

The story goes, that the idea the Fjällräven expedition came from when the store's founder Åke Nordin met Kenth Fjellborg, one of Sweden’s leading dog-sled drivers, who had participated in the Iditarod, the world’s most difficult dog sled competition, held in Alaska. Nordin wanted to create a similar experience, but not for elite athletes, but for regular folks. The first Fjällräven Polar took place in 1997.

Van Drunen has already started planning for the expedition, which runs from March 30 to April 5.

There is a private Facebook group with former expedition participants and as soon as his name was announced, a former winner reached out to invite him to the group.

There, other participants are offering helpful advice on the page.

"The feedback I am getting from my [new] Polar family is to arrive early, spend some days — especially since I am going to be travelling from so far away — get over the jet lag, potentially meet some other participants — before we get into how we set up the dogs, sleds, and packing and all of our gear," he said, adding he is deep into the details of the expedition with spreadsheets and lists.

Van Drunen said the overwhelming outpouring of love and support from family, friends and strangers since he announced he was selected has been amazing.

"Something I have never experienced before in my life," he said, adding he received hundreds of messages through social media. "It was incredible."

He said he wants to continue to use his social media channels to share his experiences. He also hopes to give talks to local high school classes about following your dreams and setting goals.

Follow him at @cowboy_wolf on Instagram or at Dan Van Drunen on Facebook.

Find out more about the expedition here.