This book review was written by ATRA contributor Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian.
Fast into the Night: A Woman, Her Dogs, and Their Journey North on the Iditarod Trail, by Debbie Clarke Moderow. Houghton Mifflin, 2016.
For runners, braving the elements comes as part of the territory. Training and adequate preparation are a given. With the exception of relay races or team competitions, we accept the loneliness of the long distance runner. But even within team boundaries, much of the training is a solo event. Ultra athletes often have meticulous planning charts to include crews and pacers, but still the onus is primarily on them to pull through.
Dogsled competition takes this to an entirely different level. After reading Debbie Moderow’s account of procuring an uncountable number of dog booties, lead ropes, batteries, etc. I will no longer grumble about packing my gym bag with gear to accommodate several possible weather scenarios. Ultra runners who send their nutrition and clothes ahead to several way stations will think that planning trivial compared to the sledder who must feed not only herself but fourteen other dogs. It almost seems a relief to get to the start line!
I am fascinated by the Iditarod and have read many different accounts and even attended talks by those who have actually succeeded in the ultimate adventure. Always, there is a telling picture of the musher and his champion lead dog. What is missing is more of a sense of the entire team, of what it takes to care for, motivate and enjoy the doggie moments. And this is where Moderow’s account shines. While her husband and children are also Iditarod racers, it is Moderow who is the kennel master.
In sharing her journey we not only experience the expected tricky terrain, but we gain another perspective on the “Last Great Race on Earth,” one where the musher’s primary focus is on the dogs and the experience and on each member of the team. We learn that line positions are fluid, according to skill, energy and group dynamics. While it is a given that each and every musher care for their dogs physical needs first, Moderow also takes emotional needs into account, amusing checkpoint personnel when she ceremoniously unfurls Juliet’s private sleeping bag. Imagine — a sled dog who gets cold at night!
Her experience lends fuel to the adage, “It is the journey, not the destination.”