More verses of the Ballad


I don’t have any deep racing insight (that I’m ready to share!) at this point, and since none of the front-runners are out of Nikolai yet, I’m going to slow things down a bit and share with you a couple of passages from my dog mushing adventure story Ballad of the Northland.

The following pieces are taken completely out of context (I want to share them, but not give away the storyline too much), and deal with the “hero” of the narrative leaving Rohn and running across the Burn, going in and out of Nikolai, and on to the checkpoint of McGrath.

The Burn–

The dogs dragged him through tunneled forest so dense with scrub growth and so tightly hemmed in that the trunks of small trees scraped against either side of his sled; up a steep ravine filled from side to side with creek water glaciated into terraced rivulets like frozen lava. The moon hung low in the sky and painted the dogs’ shadows upon the ground in flickering black streamers. The Boy clung to the handlebar as the constellations swung across the great dome of the heavens, his mind smoothly disengaged from the work of managing the team and the primal cold coming from out of the very bosom of the earth. His thoughts, when they did come, somersaulted and drifted in a number of oblique directions, always returning to the central theme of his family lost, the strange homecoming rushing towards him.

They encountered a place where a great fire had once burned and reduced the trees to charcoaled poles. The snow here had blown completely away and clouds of dust came back from the dogs’ feet in choking clouds. Halfway across this burned waste, they started catching other teams struggling at the back of the pack, and passed them all in silence like darkened trains running on concurrent tracks.

Nikolai and McGrath

It was still dark when he pulled into the village of Nikolai on the far side of the Burn. He fetched food and water and rebooted the team where they stood on the plowed central roadway, departing shortly thereafter following the banks of the river while the aurora borealis paled the western sky. He stopped the team for a brief time in an open swamp rumpled with exposed knobs of tundra and tufts of dry grass. He lit his cooker and stood shaking inside his suit while it blazed with clear blue fire. The dogs ate well and napped on crisping straw beds; got up stiff and sluggish a few hours later in the gloom of the frigid predawn hours.

They arrived at the township of McGrath running between the banks of a river nearly as wide as the Yentna; found a long collection of frosted buildings, cars idling on the sides of icy roads, and a small group of locals heavily muffled against the cold. He signed the sheet that was placed before him, a meaningless scrawl of graphite at the end of a very long list, dropped back onto the river and put the checkpoint behind him. Swampland let into hill country and the team climbed throughout a long gray morning, the flashing beacon of a repeater tower showing through the tops of trees where the forest thinned….

I thought I would include this post as an example of the what I truly believe are the underlying principles behind our great sport–poetry & art.

Thanks for tuning in–more to follow….

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2 Responses to “More verses of the Ballad”

  1. Harmony Barron Reply March 8, 2011 at 15:54

    Beautiful. It makes me want to read the book again…or maybe run the Iditarod again…or maybe both!

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