Gary Paulsen is an Iditarod racer who happens also to be a writer or vice verso. This is his tale of training for and running his first Iditarod. It is an account rich in humour and profound insights into both his own nature and that of the dogs. An important component of Paulsen’s approach involved living so closely with his dogs that he essentially became a dog in his perceptions and point of view. He slept in the dog yard in a sleeping bag. This reminded me of very beautiful piece of writing by the late Canadian writer Timothy Findley who did exactly the same thing on his farm in south western Ontario. He too wanted to experience life from his dogs point of view in order to better understand them. It was important to him to see what it is that the dogs do out there alone, together at night. These are the actions of a person dedicated to a very deep relationship with dogs. Be the dog.
I have read now a number of books written by well known mushers and have found them to be by and large informative and entertaining but I will concede that as far as laughing out loud is concerned Paulsen’s book wins hands down. There are many obstacles to be overcome and constant challenges; Paulsen greets these events, sometimes painful and frightening, with plenty of pluck and a wonderful ability to laugh both at circumstances and at himself. The episode involving multiple skunk sprayings is simply hilarious. The author is on a learning curve, this is a process and he isn’t shy about sharing the details of his mishaps, most of which seemed to be unwittingly self-engineered, with the reader. This is all about ingenuity and perseverance. Gary Paulsen’s ingenuity is astounding not only with the dogs but in building sleds and various devices for training in the off season. He also needed to fund raise and scavenge and improvise with the materials at hand. This is a man with drive.
He completed that first Iditarod in 1981. Health concerns forced him to make some changes in his life and set off in some new directions. He became one of America’s most prolific writers of fiction for young people, writing wilderness adventure and coming of age tales. Twice his books were selected for the prestigious Newberry Honor Award. He now lives in New Mexico where he trains dogs for the Iditarod. He competed in the 2008 race and was slated to run this year also but the official Iditarod website lists his name among those who have withdrawn from this year’s race. If you are interested in finding out more about this remarkable individual you can visit his website.