Friday, February 12, 2016

Winterdance



This week has been tough.  I'm half way through life with a peg leg--in another three weeks, if all has gone well with my tendon, I'll be allowed to once again bend my knee (just a bit to start).  I'm getting a bit of cabin fever.  I'm reading, putting together puzzles and doing a lot of work (much of it from a recliner!  I wish I was more mobile as this weekend is the Savannah Book Festival.  I'm going to have to skip most of the events although I will go with friends this evening to hear Erik Larson (author of Deadwake) this evening.  Here is another book review: 


Gary Paulsen, Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod (San Diego: Harvest Books, 1994), 256 pages plus 8 pages of color photographs.

The Iditarod is a 1000 mile long dog sled race across the heart of Alaska, from Anchorage to Nome.  The men and women and dogs that run the race must endure incredible hardships: mountains, incredibly cold weather, wild animals, dog fights, lack of sleep, and a run across frozen salt water in Norton Sound.  As one of his relatives told him, “Read people don’t do those kind of things.”(54) 

In Winterdance, a book filled with humor, Paulsen takes us along with him and fifteen dogs to prove otherwise.  The book is fast paced, a little unbelievable at times, and often funny.  The scene of Paulsen trying to run dogs during training, without snow, by riding behind on a bicycle pulled by a dozen wild dogs, left me wondering how survived to arrive alive in Alaska.  Paulsen later tied to the dogs to a car body, from where he sat as they pulled him across the barren ground.  The dogs love to pull and in time, Paulsen found himself essentially living with the dogs as his life centered on carrying for the dogs.  In training and in running the race, one primarily focuses on the dogs need.  Food, feet care, medical needs and rest for the animals all come before the musher’s needs.

Paulsen openly makes fun of his amateur status as a dog musher.  When he decided to run the Iditarod, the longest run he’d done with dogs was 150 miles running a trap line in Minnesota.  When the race started in downtown Anchorage, he and his dogs took a wrong turn and ran through the crowds.  This, however, was the “show start” as the dogs only run a few blocks before being trucked to the real start of the race (outside of the freeways that circle the city).   The race involves stopping at a number of checkpoints, where food is cached and the dogs are checked.  If anything, the focus is all on the dogs.   With the exception of a few occasions, such as being caught in a storm and having to wait it out, you wonder if Paulsen ever slept during the race.  At the checkpoints, he’d have to check each dog’s paws as well as cook dog food which was placed in a cooler on the sleds for the next run. 

Two of Paulsen’s dogs stand out: Cookie and Devil.  Cookie is the fun loving led dog, whose instinct saves the team on Norton Sound where the ice is breaking up.  Devil, lives up to his name, as he is always trying to eat other dogs and even attacks Paulsen (they eventually reach an uneasy truce).  But Devil can pull and that’s why Paulsen keeps him as a part of the team. (I wondered if dogs live up to their names…)  Paulsen also speaks of the dogs of other mushers.  Getting teams of dogs together in tight places can be a problem as there is always the possibility of a dog fight.  And then there are the problems with the bitches going into heat, and the mushers who attempt to mask the dog’s scent by spreading Vicks vapor rub on her.  The trick works until the male dogs learn to associate Vicks with sex, at which time the musher is in danger by opening the jar.  The dogs appear to get into the excitement of the race and I come away with a sense that they enjoyed the challenge.  

A race such as this brings out the best and the worst of people, sometimes from the same person.  Paulsen tells of a musher who brought donuts to share with other mushers, but then in rage at his team, he kicked and killed a dog.  This was a serious violation and as Paulsen and another musher witnessed and reported it, the man was banned for ever racing again. 

Paulsen finished the race, even though at times he hallucinated from the lack of sleep.  He vows to come back and win it.  He did run the race twice, but heart problems kept him returning again and he never did win the race. 

I read this book for a men’s book club of which I’m a member.  I enjoyed it and would recommend it to those interested in dogs or the outdoors.  Years ago, when my son was a teenager, we’d read together some other Paulsen books.  Although this book wasn’t necessarily written for middle school students, it is an easy (and enjoyable) read.

34 comments:

  1. Someday I would like to ride on a sled pulled by dogs for a ways. I think it would be a slice of heaven to be flying on fresh powder through a forest covered in snow. But I'm a long ways from ever wanting to do the Iditarod. I'll leave that for others.

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    1. I agree. I would love to try running dogs with a sled. When my daughter was seven or eight, for her birthday we went to a waterpark in Michigan that also had sled dog rides. She and her mother rode in the sled for a few miles and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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  2. I prefer my books to take place on the beach! Keep on healing, Sage.

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    1. Have you read Neal Shute's "On the Beach?" It might not be the kind of beach book you're looking for :)

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    2. Yes! I read it in high school and I loved it.

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  3. Thanks for the books review. Keep feeling better.

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  4. Sounds interesting. Some friends of mine had a team of dogs in the Iditarod. I hope you continue to heal and you have your mobility back again soon.

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    1. It would take quite a commitment to field a team of dog in that race!

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  5. This sounds like an interesting book. Get well soon.

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  6. what sad you still are with yourleg problem, tendon is difficult We never think in that I know. Only hope you feel better soon Sage !
    Love this review but Im not sure this book I can find here, I will look !!
    Hugss and feel better and ... take care.

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  7. When I was a wee thing (4th grade), I had a teacher I loved who read us The Race to Nome, the story of the diptheria outbreak and the race (literally) to get medicine to the town. I was totally hooked on the drama of it.

    I think you've convinced me to read this one, too. Thanks, sage!

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  8. I'm just now catching up on my blogging as I visited Spain and have been very busy writing a book. I'm very sorry to hear about your injury and hope you will be more mobile soon. Thanks for the book review. I will enjoy doing some reading myself as I think it will be a lot more fun than writing one. Get well soon and take care!

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    1. Thanks, you'll have to tell us more about your book!

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  9. I remember how stiff my arm was after having it immobilized. took quite a bit of work to get it back to relative normal. I know you will be up for it, though.

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  10. Oh goodness, I've been thinking about how you are doing, and I'm sending happy thoughts and speedy recovery prayers your way. Thank goodness you're a reader it helps in times like this, but I know when you have constant pain it's hard sometimes to enjoy anything! Stay strong! There's a whole world out there waiting for you to conquer again!

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    1. Thankfully, after the first week of the surgery, the pain hasn't been bad. Early in Paulsen's book, he quotes a Chinese proverb, "A man with a toothache cannot be in love." It ran true!

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  11. I bet you're getting antsy! Hopefully you'll heal nicely, so you'll be able to get out once the weather warms up.

    I've heard of Paulsen. Has he written other books?

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    1. Yes, he has written a lot of books, mostly young adult coming of age books set in the wilderness.

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  12. blessings....
    Glad to read that you are on the mend. Sounds despite the cabin fever you are doing a good job occupying yourself.

    You take care now hear....
    peace.
    Rhapsody
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    “The highest education is that which does not merely give us information, but makes our life in harmony with all existence”-Rabindranath Tagore

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    1. I like your Tagore quote--I have enjoyed his poetry in the past

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  13. I enjoy Paulsen's work. I've read a few books taking place in Alaska and Canada, some involving dogs. It's a huge contrast from where I live.

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    1. Yeah, I bet it is different (you're in South Florida, right?)

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  14. I lived in Anchorage (you can drive to Alaska from there) during the pipeline days, and still have a tattered T-shirt from that time. It has a picture of Susan Butcher with her sled, and the words "Alaska, where men are men and women win the Iditarod.
    BTW, on my blog your comment that contained the link to the dead western writers on the bozo's occupying the wildlife refuge was great. I particularly like Ed Abbey's.

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  15. Sage: As one who has endured athletic surgeries over the years, believe me when I tell you that you'll emerge whole. It's difficult to see that now. But your PT will get you to 75% before you resume it at home. You'll be fine! ;)

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    1. PT is still two and a half weeks away--I have six weeks from surgery with no bending of the knee... But I do plan to get back to normal! Thanks for the encouragement.

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  16. I suppose that one man's madness is another man's paradise.

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