Review: Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod

After finishing up Into the Wild about a week ago, I found myself still thinking about Alaska and the pull of the Great White North. I remembered a book on my To-Be-Read pile that was set in Alaska, so I dusted it off and settled in for a WILD RIDE!!

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen is a humorous non-fiction account of the joy, beauty, terror, danger, thrills, and utter lunacy of running the 1180-mile dogsled race from Anchorage to Nome.

From moose attacks and dog bites to crackling sea ice and sheer cliffs, from suckholes (frozen whirlpools) and 90 mile winds to murderous mushers and bitter cold, the Iditarod is not for wimps. It takes a certain kind of crazy for a person to attempt such a formidable test of their physical, mental, and emotional limits.

The story begins in the woods of Minnesota, where Paulsen’s obsession with his dogs and the beauty of the woods becomes so alluring to him that he forsakes all else in order to run dogs. He bonds so thoroughly with them that he begins to live with them, eat, sleep, and be with them 24/7. The dogs are born to run; semi-wild creatures (some part wolf), snapping, snarling, and fighting with each other while slowly becoming a cohesive team.

Paulsen crashes and careens around Minnesota, running the dogs for hundreds of miles before the Iditarod starts to take shape and form as a real possibility in his mind. The community gets behind him and gives him donations of money and gear. One person donates a truck and actually drives him to Alaska for the race.

If this was fiction, you might be rolling your eyes thinking, “No way could all these things happen!” But against every possible obstacle, and with fierce determination, Paulsen gets to Anchorage, runs the race, and miraculously lives through it. What a treat to be along for this white-knuckle ride!