‘Do you like the race so far?’
I looked at her, trying to find sarcasm, but she was serious; she really wanted to know. And I thought of how to answer her.
I had gotten lost, been run over by a moose, watched a dog get killed, seen a man cry, dragged over a third of the teams off on the wrong trail, and been absolutely hammered by beauty while all this was happening. (It was, I would find later, essentially a normal Iditarod day — perhaps a bit calmer than most.) I opened my mouth.
Nothing came. She patted my arm and nodded. ‘I understand. It’s so early in the race. There’ll be more later to talk about …’
And she left me before I could tell her that I thought my whole life had changed, that my basic understanding of values had changed, that I wasn’t sure if I would ever recover, that I had seen god and he was a dog-man and that nothing, ever, would be the same for me again, and it was only the first true checkpoint of the race.
I had come just one hundred miles.
Gary Paulsen is an award-winning writer of adventure stories for children and young adults and Winterdance is a wonderful account of his experiences on the world’s greatest dog-sledding race, the Iditarod.
I absolutely loved this book and it made me want to run the Iditarod for myself. I appreciate that there is controversy about how some of the dogs are treated (over 140 dogs have died since the race’s start in 1973) but if Paulsen’s account is anything approaching a typical experience then the majority of the dogs are treated extremely well. Part of this is pure survival – your life literally depends on these dogs.
Two of the things I loved about this book was the bond between man and dog as well as Paulsen’s prose style. Paulsen describes in wonderful detail the change that he undergoes as he lives with the dogs all the time and really gets to know them (including the aptly-named crazy Canadian Eskimo dog Devil) in preparation for the race. The second part describes the race itself – from the ‘phony start’ in downtown Anchorage to the treacherous descents of Rainy Pass, the bone-chilling cold of the Yukon and the starkly beautiful Norton Sound.
This is an adrenalin-filled, funny, life-affirming account of a 43-year old Minnesota man’s journey with 15 dogs on the ultimate dog-sledding race. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.
I would also recommend watching a clip of the type of sledding that the mushers experience on the Iditarod. Having read Paulsen’s book, I was expecting a hair-raising crash-filled dash with larger-than-life dog-wolves. The reality is a lot more sedate – until they get to the downhill part. And bear in mind that this clip is taken by one of the experts, a four-time Iditarod winner.