Injury on the Trail of the Great Race

Map of Alaska highlighting Matanuska-Susitna B...

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I grew up with my brothers on the Yentna River knowing little else then a rough, subsistence lifestyle, and mushing sled dogs– both for competition as well as transportation.

It’s fair enough to say that I have a deep connection with the land, its people, and its primary recreation/sport that nears  the level of obsession.

Here is a brief passage (and piece of art) from the 2010 novel Ballad of the Northland which I wrote in collaboration with my artist & musher wife Harmony, which I share now as an example of the artistic expression of the opening statement, the scene directly following the story’s “hero” departing the checkpoint of Skwentna on the Great Race:

The Boy pulled the hook and let the team go. After one brief sweep of the slough, the checkpoint was lost in the mist. The trail followed the watercourse for less than a mile before completing a broad sweeping turn and pointing at a river bank thick with tangled underbrush. At the foot of the bank was a wide stretch of gray overflow, into which his leaders dove and promptly disappeared, emerging from the other side in a spray of water and slush. When his sled went into the mess, he leaned forward across the handlebar and kicked his feet straight back. The sled foundered and began to roll over, forcing him to slide off and plunge into the water up to his crotch. His boots slid out from under him, and he and the sled tipped over on their side and began to drag through the alder bushes on the bank. He called for the dogs to stop, but they ignored him. Something lashed his face and drove a swarm of stars across his field of vision. He hit something unmovable, heard a rending crack. He pulled himself forward with pure brute strength and struggled to twist his hips, fighting to get his feet planted so that he could push himself upright.

They came to a sudden, explosive stop that knocked the breath from his lungs and left him reeling on the ground. When his vision cleared, he scrambled to his feet, saw the sled wedged into a tree stump, the dogs lined out and barking to go. With all of the power in his body, he yanked the sled free and jumped onto the runners as the team took off, only noticing that his bag of food was missing from the top of his sled bag after they were speeding away. He stomped on the brake and looked back; saw the poly bag sprawled in the middle of the trail. Cursing, he made sure that his snowhook was firmly connected to a nearby birch tree, doubled up with a heavy piece of rope laced through his sled’s bridle and lashed around the trunk for extra security. Even with the team so securely fastened, every fiber of his body cried out in protest as he loped back to retrieve his bag.

He reached down to grab the top of it, and as he swung it up and over his shoulder, a sharp shriek of pain bolted up his arm, so unexpected that it almost caused him to black out. Panting, he ignored this, turned and ran back to his sled. As he bent down to retie the dog food to the top of his sled, his dogs suddenly fell quiet and he knew that a team was approaching. He looked up just in time to see The Norwegian come swarming around the corner, dogs lined out like a freight train, fierce blue eyes frowning from above a rain slickened face muffler. One brief image, and then he was gone….

If you’re curious to read more of the book, you can order your copy at our page 😉

Thanks for tuning in—more to follow….

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