Reading the North

February 8, 2014 

The First Great Race

Dan Seavey (Publication Consultants, $24.95)

The blurb: Alaska's 1973 Iditarod. Many have dreamed of quitting their jobs, packing up the family and moving to the Last Frontier. Dan Seavey, a high school teacher from Minnesota, did just that. Along with wife Shirley and three small children, he drove the Alaska Highway in 1963 and homesteaded north of Seward, Alaska, just in time to survive the Great Alaska Earthquake.

Pursuing his childhood dream of mushing, Dan acquired his first sled dog puppy a month after arrival. Dog mushing was fading, but a few visionaries stood in the gap and fought to preserve the sled dog. Dan was among them and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was born. Later he would advocate tirelessly for the establishment and maintenance of the historical routes traversed by the ancestors of his beloved sled dogs. Now, after 50 years of mushing, five Iditarod races, watching both his son and grandson win the Iditarod, and induction into the Iditarod Hall of Fame, Dan tells his incredible story.

Seavey compiles his trove of notes, photos and recordings taken during The First Great Race to give readers a first-hand, on-the-runners experience of a grueling 1,000-mile, 20-day odyssey through some of the most unforgiving wilderness on Earth.

Excerpt: At Poorman and Kaltag, I again found myself in a dog food deficiency -- like a zero amount. Beating local bushes the best I could do was a sack of frozen herring, for which I poured into the local economy 10 dollars. I gave half to Bobby Vent, as he, too, was in a dog food crunch. Except for a few, saved for a morning snack, I fed it all amid serious misgivings, as the lot appeared rather shopworn. Herring is extremely fat, rich fish. I knew my dogs were not accustomed to such rich fare. At home, most had refused to eat the stuff at all, the few times I'd given it a try. But at White Mountain, it was a situation of herring or nothing. To my surprise, they all chose herring. Next day, on the final run to Nome, my misgivings proved valid. Three dogs were ill, plagued by vomiting and diarrhea over the first half day. The remaining eight showed no obvious adverse effects.

White Mountain was a checkpoint in every sense of the word, except a dog food depot. Amiable Howard Lincoln was the village checker, as he would remain for more than three decades to come. People cut boughs for dog beds, and a fellow named Johnny invited Bobby and me to stay at his place, which we gladly did. I polished off three helpings of caribou stew and drank what must have been two quarts of coffee and water. After setting my alarm for 5 a.m., I collapsed into deep, much-needed sleep somewhere close to 11:30 p.m.

Fools Gold

Lynn Lovegreen (Prism Book Group, $9)

The blurb: Ellie travels with her younger brother to the wilds of the Klondike Gold Rush to save the family farm. She's prepared for hardship on the trail, but not for the sparkling blue eyes of Duke Masterson, a charming saloon-keeper. And Duke is surprised to find that Ellie and her apple pies are more valuable to him than all the gold nuggets in Skagway, Alaska. Now if he could only overcome Ellie's fear of losing her newly found independence and win her heart. Together they must defeat the con man corrupting the town and make their fortunes before the last steamship of the season heads south.

Excerpt: Ellie gazed at the hills passing by as the steamer made its way up Lynn Canal. Dark, green cedar and hemlock trees towered over dense emerald thickets next to the shining ocean. It was primeval forest -- like the one mentioned in the Longfellow poem -- not at all like the sweeping plains of her home. A coal-black raven cawed from a nearby tree, then glided above the water.

"Good morning, Miss Webster," a voice said in her right ear.

She jumped and turned in time to see Duke Masterson tip his hat.

"Morning," she said, then turned back to the forest, irritated by his interruption.

"Lovely, isn't it?" The smile in his voice hung in the air for a moment as she enjoyed the view. A waterfall cascaded into the sea as the ship chugged along the inlet.

"Yes, it is," she said, her annoyance softened by the sight before her.

"I think it's the most beautiful place I've ever seen," Duke added as the waterfall faded into the distance.

At least he can appreciate fine scenery, Ellie thought as she smiled at him. His high cheekbones and long eyelashes framed his clear, blue eyes.

Duke caught her looking at him, and her cheeks turned hot. He grinned at her. "Yes, definitely the most beautiful place I've seen."

Ellie opened her mouth to speak, but couldn't think of anything to say. In her embarrassment, her face burned hotter. She was usually the one with a witty retort or comment to shut down impertinent people.

Whether to ease her feelings or for some reason of his own, Duke did not press his advantage further. He tipped his hat again, said, "Be seeing you, Miss Webster," and strolled down the deck and around the comer, out of sight.

Ellie noted his broad shoulders as he walked away. Don't make such a fuss, she told herself. You've seen good-looking men before. Why should this one get you so discombobulated? Her cheeks were still burning as she answered her own question. I guess it's the combination of good looks and confidence. At any rate, I've got to stop mooning over him like a schoolgirl.


Compiled by Kathleen Macknicki, Anchorage Daily News.

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