Thursday, November 12, 2009

Winterdance - You Just Gotta Wonder About People Sometimes

Maybe he's just crazy. I mean, that would explain it, wouldn't it? "The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod" is the subtitle of Gary Paulsen's Winderdance. I don't know about "fine," but yeah, I'd agree to the madness part. Racing with a team of dogs for 1180 miles across the Alaskan snow and ice. Gary! What are you, nuts???

But he did it. He finished the race, and went back to do it a second time. A committed dude, that Paulsen. And if he isn't, he ought to be committed -- to an asylum. I know, that's an old joke. Sorry.

He trained the dogs, and the dogs saved his life. This is that kind of story. And Paulsen is such a story teller.

"Without thinking I jerked at the skunk to pull it away from Devil. This was risky in itself. Devil considered the skunk to be food, was in fact trying to swallow the skunk whole, or so it seemed, and grabbing Devil's food amounted to suicide.

But worse, I grabbed the tail, which had the effect of swinging the rear end of the skunk around to aim the potent business end at me, at my face.

Whereupon the skunk let go.

His firepower was somewhat diminished, as he'd dumped some of it on the dogs, but there was still a hefty load and it blew, like the winds of death, directly into my face.


It was exactly that sound. I have never heard it duplicated by another person, and it was accompanied by projectile vomiting, walking in circles in the ditch, trying to rub it out of my eyes, and a sudden and sincere wish to become an investment banker, or any other job that would never put me close to a skunk's ass again.

It took a half hour to get some vision and ability to breathe right, and another half hour to sort the team and untangle them and get them ready to continue on.

It was bad, it was vile, it was in some way green and bilious, but we had overcome it and, I thought, could now finish the run -- stinking, perhaps, still queasy and sick, but none the worse for wear in other ways.

We hit the second skunk within a mile.

The results were almost exactly the same except that this time the skunk somehow got away from the dogs on his own and I tried to help it by kicking it down into the ditch, out of the way, so it could escape.

Rule one: don't grab a skunk by the tail and pull.

Rule two: Don't kick a skunk."

You know, I wanted to give you a little of the flavor of the book, so I opened it at random to that part. The whole story is that engaging. Think you might want to race the Iditarod someday? Even if you don't (You're not crazy, right?), Winterdance is great fun.


Ms. Yingling said...

I don't know why my daughter disliked this book, other than it was assigned for a class. Luckily, my run-ins with skunks have NOT been this pungent!

Joe Cottonwood said...

I dunno about the book (yet), but that was the best book review I've read all year.

Becker said...

I really enjoyed this one--combines 2 of my favorite things, outdoor adventure and dogs. No End in Sight: My Life as a Blind Iditarod Racer by Rachael Scdoris waw also interesting.

Sled Dog Action Coalition said...

For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. Six dogs died in the 2009 Iditarod, including two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer's team who froze to death in the brutally cold winds. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia,
ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the race. No one knows how many dogs die after this tortuous ordeal or during training.

On average, 52 percent of the dogs who start the race do not make it across the finish line. According to a report published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, of those who do finish, 81 percent have lung damage. A report published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine said that 61 percent of the dogs who complete the Iditarod have ulcers versus zero percent pre-race.

Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death."

During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running.

Most Iditarod dogs are forced to live at the end of a chain when they aren't hauling people around. It has been reported that dogs who don't make the main team are never taken off-chain. Chained dogs have been attacked by wolves, bears and other animals. Old and arthritic dogs suffer terrible pain in the blistering cold.

The Iditarod, with all the evils associated with it, has become a synonym for exploitation. The race imposes torture no dog should be forced to endure.

Margery Glickman
Sled Dog Action Coalition,

gonovice said...

Thanks for your comments. Joe, quoting Paulsen makes for an easy review, I think. But thanks.