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Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod

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Fueled by a passion for running dogs, Gary Paulsen entered the Iditarod--the eleven hundred and eighty mile sled-dog race through the Alaskan wilderness--in dangerous ignorance and with a fierce determination. For seventeen days, he and his team of dogs endured blinding wind, snowstorms, frostbite, dogfights, moose attacks, sleeplessness, hallucinations--and the relentless push to go on. Winterdance is the enthralling account of a stunning wilderness journey of discovery and transformation (Chicago Tribune), lived and told by the best author of man-against-nature adventures writing today (Publishers Weekly).

272 pages, Paperback

First published March 1, 1994

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About the author

Gary Paulsen

305 books3,272 followers
Although he was never a dedicated student, Paulsen developed a passion for reading at an early age. After a librarian gave him a book to read--along with his own library card--he was hooked. He began spending hours alone in the basement of his apartment building, reading one book after another.

Running away from home at the age of 14 and traveling with a carnival, Paulsen acquired a taste for adventure. A youthful summer of rigorous chores on a farm; jobs as an engineer, construction worker, ranch hand, truck driver, and sailor; and two rounds of the 1,180-mile Alaskan dog sled race, the Iditarod; have provided ample material from which he creates his stories.

Paulsen and his wife, Ruth Wright Paulsen, an artist who has illustrated several of his books, divide their time between a home in New Mexico and a boat in the Pacific.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,131 reviews
Profile Image for Julie G .
869 reviews2,679 followers
January 13, 2023
Last spring, my brother came for a visit and helped me plant some fruit trees. As soon as he planted a persimmon tree, he had a small group of Asian neighbors gathered around him, wondering why a skinny white dude would plant a persimmon tree.

As I stood outside a couple of days later, watering the new trees, a shy neighbor of mine, originally from Seoul, Korea, approached me and expressed her fascination with my brother's choice to plant a persimmon tree. She claimed it was “an Asian tree” and she was so confused. I looked at her and said, “Well, you should try his kimchi some time.”

This put her in a great state of consternation. “His kimchi? He prepares kimchi?”

I explained, “Yes, but not always. But he does cook Korean, almost exclusively.”

My neighbor could not understand this. She had never heard of any white man, nor too many Korean men either, who were competing, on any level, with her or her mother in the kitchen.”

Within two weeks, my brother was the stuff of legend. I came in one day and said to him, as he was washing the dishes, “Apparently you're a war hero, too. There's some rumor now that you fought in a war, and they're now referring to you as 'G.I. Joe.'” We almost died laughing.

My brother is a self-taught man who cooks Korean food for one main reason: he loves it. As an organic farmer, he typically lives in rural locales where he can't find any. Plus, he's cheap.

So. . . he set out to master it, to master many types of Asian cuisine, in fact, but primarily Chinese and Korean. And he dove in, found the proper cookbooks, Youtube channels, equipment and blogs, and he made a commitment to working at it, for years, to get it right.

The thing is, when we set out to master something, take ourselves far out of our comfort zone, strive for something so different than what we were shown or taught, we almost always garner the interest of others.

Gary Paulsen learned this, when he found himself in the unlikely territory of training himself and a large team of dogs to run the Iditarod in Alaska.

Mr. Paulsen was broke, in his third marriage and living out in the middle of nowhere when the members of his community got wind of his dream to run the Iditarod.

Before he knew it, he had their interest, their financial backing and their unwavering support.

If Paulsen had been a cocky man, a blowhard novelist who was constantly name-dropping (I can think of a few), he might have had no one's interest.

But, he wasn't. He was the type of man who wrote lines like these:

I left the yard on my face, my ass, my back, my belly. I dragged for a mile, two miles, three miles. I lost the team eight, ten times; walked twelve, seventeen, once forty-some miles looking for them. The rig broke every time we ran, torn to pieces. . . Every farmer within forty miles of us knew about me, knew me as “that crazy bastard who can't hold his team.” I once left the yard with wooden matches in my pocket and had them ignite as I was being dragged past the door of the house, giving me the semblance of a meteorite, screaming something about my balls being on fire at Ruth, who was laughing so hard she couldn't stand.

This is why three women married him, why a community stood behind him, why he's still selling stories like coffee at Starbuck's.

Mr. Paulsen wrote more than TWO HUNDRED books in his lifetime. I've only read three of them, but I've given all three of them five stars.

This is a story about an underdog and a team of dogs who ran the Iditarod.

It is humble, it is riveting, it is mystical. Honestly, I'd recommend it to anyone who knows how to read.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,692 reviews14.1k followers
January 20, 2021
When my youngest son was a pre teen he was an avid reader of Paulsen's adventure books for young readers. Though this is an adult book his writing style is such that one can see the appeal he had for his younger audience.

The Iditarod, not one of my goals but one of Paulsens as he takes his reading audience through his attainment of dogs, his trainng of said dogs and his run at the Iditarod. Hard work for sure, but his experiences are a series of unfortunate events, his telling of them vastly humorous. His respect and love for his dogs, in his comments he says he began to think like them, so attuned he became to their needs. There are parts where I laughed out loud, but was still aware of how lucky he was because several times the positive outcome was in doubt. There was one part that was hard to read, concerning a very abusive musher, but it was fortunately short lived, though hard to process.

I enjoyed both the learning experience and the reading experience. Hats off to those who compete in this, what seems to me, impossible endeavour.

Bought the book and sent it to above mentioned son.

The narrator was Danny Campbell and I thought his voice was perfect. Book though has illustrations which I would have liked to see. Will borrow sons book when he has finished.
Profile Image for Woman Reading .
425 reviews266 followers
November 1, 2022
4 ☆
It is almost impossible to articulate the [Iditarod] as a whole. It can be broken down into sections, days, hours, horrors, joys, checkpoints, winds, nights, cold, waters, ice, deaths, tragedies, small and large courage. But as a whole, to say generally what the race is like, there are no exact words.

Outrageous, perhaps. Staggering. Insane. Altering. All of them, and more. No one word works.

To those of us living Outside, ie. not in Alaska, the Iditarod is a dog sled race replaying the heroic effort in 1925 to get life-saving diptheria serum to Nome; transport via dog sled was the only option in winter. Apparently, this is a myth - https://iditarod.com/about__trashed/t... or https://iditarod.com/edu/origin-of-th....

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod is about Paulsen's transformation during his dog-sled running days and his rookie experiences with the Iditarod in the 1980s. It began with financial circumstances pushing his family into a shack in the northern woods of Minnesota and a friend's gift of a sled and four dogs which became his only means of transportation. He slowly developed an appreciation for the beauty of life he witnessed during his first year with the sled dogs - from bold beavers to a she-wolf in heat whom he dubbed "Marge."

I was starting to growl more and more at [my dogs] and talk less. Speaking in grunts. ...

It was still too soon in my dog career for me to begin to go mad while running them. That would come later.

It didn't even take two years with his sled dogs before Paulsen decided to participate in the Iditarod.

We had spoken of the Iditarod a few times. ... I knew nothing of Alaska, crossing mountain ranges, running on sea ice, racing with a team ... 1,180 miles of snow and deep cold, cold like I had never even imagined, winds beyond belief, roaring waters and deadly dreams - a world, a whole world beyond my knowing.

The first half of Winterdance was about his preparations for the Iditarod. There were many laugh-out-loud vignettes as he didn't spare himself in recounting the unexpected encounters with nature and the mishaps as he assembled his team of 15 dogs. His tale about the skunks was the bomb.

The second half of his memoir described his first Iditarod. There was an "official" start of the race in Anchorage for the televised publicity before the competition really began in Knik. It quickly dawned upon him that his ignorance, in addition to the non-racecourse issues like deadly moose attacks and dog fights, may have gravely endangered his life. But the wildness of Alaska soon cast its spell on Paulsen and the Iditarod did the rest.

And, finally, there was Alaska - the seductive, wonderfully magnificent deadly beauty of the place.

I thought my whole life had changed, that my basic understanding of values had changed, that I wasn’t sure if I would ever recover, that I had seen god and he was a dog-man and that nothing, ever, would be the same for me again, and it was only the first true checkpoint of the race.

If you love dogs, then you should consider reading Winterdance. If you also enjoy adventure tales or are curious about Alaska, then I'd recommend that you add this to your TBR.
Profile Image for Kyle.
16 reviews
August 21, 2007
The funniest book I have ever read.

This stands among the rare books that will get you looks for laughing out loud in the middle of the airport. This is the true story of the author who, in "dangerous ignorance," just up and decides to run the Iditarod. Its a story of essentially self discovery, but really, its completely and totally insane. The adventures are hilarious, and the journey is amazing.

There is only one way for a story about a full team of Iditarod -class sled dogs raring to go with nothing but a guy on a Schwinn behind them to end. That way is friggin funny. Well, and a little dangerous.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,228 reviews451 followers
July 19, 2021
I absolutely loved this book, which was a surprise to me. I wanted something a little different, I like reading about snow and cold in the middle of a hot and humid summer, I knew Paulsen was a best-selling children's author (although this is written for adults), and I had read some excellent reviews, so decided to give it a try.

I expected the dogs and adventure descriptions and the dangers of running the Iditerod; what I didn't expect was the humor, the mysticism of "becoming one with the dogs", his changing philosophy as he got farther into the training and the race itself. I can't make this review long enough to explain everything he felt and learned, but I was not ready for this book to end, and I was not ready for my own mini emotional breakdown when it did.

Cookie, lead dog extraordinaire, deserves her star billing. In fact, all sled dogs everywhere are superstars, maybe just a cut above our own domesticated pets in intuition and bravado.

For those who don't know, The Iditerod is a grueling race over more than 1200 miles of Alaskan wilderness. It starts in Anchorage and ends in Nome, takes at least a couple of weeks, and once you begin, you're on your own. There are checkpoints and food caches along the way, but no help from anyone but other mushers you might meet, and very strict rules about even that. Every year, racers die, dogs die, whole teams go missing by falling through the ice or getting lost, or freezing to death. It's not for the faint of heart, and for a rookie like Gary Paulsen, is even more dangerous. I am amazed that he lived to tell the tale, and frankly, so was he.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. Read it, then pass it along to your husband and children, other relatives, friends, etc. There's something here for everyone.
Profile Image for Noel.
241 reviews141 followers
December 18, 2017
I’ve been fascinated with dog sledding (really anything dealing with extreme winter) since watching Iron Will as a kid. And I was fortunate enough to go dog sledding a couple times as a teenager. So I thought I sort of knew what the Iditarod was all about.
I knew nothing.
This book is incredible. It’s hilarious, for one. It’s also shocking, jaw dropping, inspiring, touching, and heartbreaking. It got to me at a deep level. It’s amazing.
Profile Image for Wyndy.
183 reviews72 followers
July 26, 2021
“When I turned back, I was struck dumb, turned to stone in horror . . . The Gorge [Dalzell] lay below and before me. A narrow passage with a rushing stream in the middle that dropped, crashing down through huge boulders and jagged rocks. There was no trail but an ice ledge that ran along one side (it would switch to the other side later over a “bridge” made from a single log only wide enough for one dog at a time and one sled runner). It was not a trail so much as a chute, and might have been passable with a walking team under close control . . . I hit it wide open.”

 It is astounding to me that no human being has ever died running the Alaskan Iditarod. The incredibly brutal terrain, weather and distance (approximately 1,000 miles) seem impossible to overcome. But “outsider” (non-native Alaskan) and YA author Gary Paulsen entered this event in 1983 at age 44 and in his own words: “ . . . nothing, ever, would be the same for me again . . . “ This is his remarkable story. Although no humans have died in this race, around 150 sled dogs have died over the 49 years of the race’s existence. And once you meet Gary Paulsen’s lead dog Cookie, even one dog lost seems too many. PETA continues to protest this event because of some mushers’ mistreatment of these amazing animals and the general hardships they face in the race, but that is an issue for a different day and a different reviewer. I’m here to say that ‘Winterdance’ is an inspiring, intense read that taught me much about true endurance and dedication, written with zero egotism or smugness and loads of humility, humor, awe and love - deep love and infinite respect for the natural world and for all dogs . . . even Devil.

“From this point on there was no separation. It was not me driving the sled and the dogs pulling me . . . It was us. It was we - an almost glorious we.”
Profile Image for Kimberly.
261 reviews
February 12, 2021
I had no idea as to how fun, emotional, gripping, and adventurous this book would be: I laughed out loud in so many parts; and I found the ending difficult but I totally understand it. I think I would have done the same thing. It would be cruel to keep the dogs and not let them run. I felt the sun on my face and the icy needles on my eyelids (of course reading this while it is 6 degrees outside helped in that regard). The author shared his emotions from rage to gratefulness; his descriptive hallucinations; and bodily sensations. This all resulted in a five-star read for me. I will likely read this book again at some time.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Melanie.
268 reviews130 followers
April 25, 2021
I have to give this one five stars because I think pretty much everyone would enjoy this. I do not have the character to do anything remotely this challenging. When Paulsen is describing training for the Iditarod there are some quite funny moments. When describing being in the race it amazes me that anyone survives! Easy, quick read.
Profile Image for Karrie.
38 reviews
December 4, 2013
Award-winning children's author, Gary Paulsen, has another life besides just being a children's author. He draws on his experience as an avid outdoors man to write his amazing books, i.e., Hatchet, Brian's Winter.

Within the first couple pages of Winterdance, Paulsen is careening around in the Minnesota back woods on a sled that is being pulled by a pack of dogs. The book could end right then and there as he goes off the edge of a cliff, but he manages to survive and so do all his dogs. That somehow inspired Paulsen to decide that he wanted to run the ultimate of dog sledding events -- The Iditarod. He titles his book, The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod because he knows how crazy this pursuit truly is. Yet he begins his preparation as his wife questions his sanity.

There begins a remarkable journey. He has to acquire the appropriate dogs to pull his sled, he has to train himself for the hundreds of hours of running, he has to prepare himself for the lack of sleep and a lack of food. While all this sounds like a trip through Hell, Paulsen tells his tale -- or tail -- in a hilarious and incredible voice. Laugh out loud as you read about him racing through the night woods and being sprayed by skunks so many times he can't even open his eyes by the time he pulls up to his house in the dawn-breaking hour. For awhile he's riding around in a VW bug as his dogs -- some of them as insane as he is -- are pulling him around as if he was in a Radio Flyer red wagon.

As the time draws near to the start of the Iditarod, Paulsen and his dogs are ready. His description of the beginning of the race is hilarious as he and his dogs run through people's backyards in an effort to find the course! The reader realizes how high the stakes are when he describes the possibility that he could be running along for hundreds of miles, only to discover that he's on an ice flow as he and his dogs pitch off the edge and into the ocean -- never to be heard from again. As he writes about the Burn, and all the other aspects of the race, you will feel all the ups and downs of actually running the Iditarod yourself. One minute you're laughing hysterically, the next minute you're on the edge of your seat trying to read fast enough to know whether he's going to die. Of course in a rational moment you know he doesn't die -- he's gone on to write dozens of books since he published Winterdance. But it's easy to forget that when you're in subzero temperatures, being pulled by 12 crazy running dogs and facing down an angry moose that is about to attack!

I was literally up until 2:00 in the morning last week -- on a weekday with work looming ahead of me in a few short hours, laughing. And this was the third time I've read this book!

It's no surprise to me that this book won an Alex Award years ago. Now, whenever someone asks me to recommend a good book for someone who doesn't like to read, I recommend this one! Given that I've read it three times and recommended to no less than 50 people, there has been plenty of time for me to hear back from all those reluctant readers and not one has come back to me to tell me that they didn't like it. In fact, everyone I've recommended it to has come back to tell me how much they loved it, especially the part about Paulsen eating the moose chili. Yep, that's the part I was laughing about at 2:00 a.m. Pick up this book and laugh out loud!
Profile Image for Mmars.
525 reviews94 followers
September 8, 2012
I get really irritated by ego trip books written by people who go adventuring (think mountain climbing or sailing solo) and keep detailed journals just to publish a "look at what I did" book.

Gary Paulsen's Winterdance is definitely not that. He lives and breathes dog sledding, the American north woods, and writing. He'd have run the Iditarod even if he wasn't a writer. He'd have raiseed sled dogs even if he wasn't a writer. He'd have lived through bitter cold Minnesota winters even if he wasn't a writer. But it so happens that he is a writer, and a very talented one at that.

Highly recommended quick read for just about anyone. Beautifully descriptive and emotive without being wordy or pretentious.
Profile Image for Laura.
819 reviews240 followers
July 19, 2021
Loved it! Fascinating, funny and would recommend to anyone. And you can be a cat person and still love this book 😉
Profile Image for Cori.
801 reviews133 followers
February 28, 2021
Talk with anyone about nostalgia and the topic of favorite childhood movies is guaranteed to come up. For some it's Little Mermaid, Ninja Turtles, or Aladdin. Two of them, for me, are Balto and Iron Will.

The idea of being alone in a wilderness dependent on a symbiotic relationship with a pack of near wild dogs mesmerized me. And it does to this day. In high school, I visited Alaska to help build cabins, and everything that referenced dog sleds and the Iditarod completely pulled my attention.

I'm married now and 31 years old. My husband would kill me. But if I ever were to pull a Wild or Eat, Pray, Love, it would be to train and run the Iditarod. Losing my entire nose to frostbite be damned. Which may have some connection to my husband killing me. I can't blame the man for not wanting a noseless wife.

Winterdance absolutely captivated me. I don't remember the last time a memoir has ever gripped me the same way. I prefaced the beginning of the review to explain why this book captured me the way it did. A few errors and misprints here and there popped out, but maybe impressed me all the more as to what a great author Gary Paulsen is sans a major editor. That said, his book may not hook everyone the same way although I highly recommend it.

And...Gary is a hilarious author. The training scene he describes when they ran into a half a dozen skunks had me laughing nonstop for several pages, finished by the conversation between Gary and his wife afterwards:
"What are you doing?"
"Coming to bed."
I stopped. "Where else?"
She let out her breath and I realized she had been holding it the whole time. "Couldn't you kind of, you know, for a night or two, sleep outside?"
"With the dogs?"
She smiled. "I knew you'd understand."
"In the kennel?"
She nodded, pulling back under the covers. "You're so smart about these things."

I have every intention of buying this book and rereading it one day.

I'd rate this book a PG-13 (although that may be generous due to the moderate number of F words) due to swearing, adult content, mention of alcohol, violence and danger, and some mild adult humor.
Profile Image for Ambrosia.
204 reviews37 followers
March 18, 2011
In a slightly different world, I might have found this book completely incomprehensible.

Of those who know me, I doubt a single person would describe me as "outdoorsy". I certainly don't mind a walk down a well-worn scenic path now and then, but a general dislike of dirt and mess combined with a very specific fear of getting lost pretty much preclude camping, hiking, or breaking trail of any sort. My strengths lie far more in the "city" environment - urbane manners, snarky wit, discerning judgment of food, drink, movies, plays, and other entertainments.

So the fact that I was this emotionally affected by a book that's entirely about a man finding joy in some of the harshest outdoor environments and one of the most unpredictable sports in the world, a man who becomes further and further estranged from "civilization" as the story goes on, would seem a bit odd at first glance. Where's the attraction? Why would reading this be such an emotional experience for someone whose passions are more along the lines of mixing drinks and analyzing stories?

Part of it is the writing. Paulsen is excellent at the sort of spare, elegant prose that nonetheless sticks in your mind. Even if you have no remotely comparable experience with which to identify with his story, he makes the world of his rookie Iditarod run - stumbling through completely unfamiliar terrain, hallucinating from lack of sleep, nearly dying of cold despite wearing every stitch of clothing he owns, being dragged on his face almost more often than standing upright on the runners - real and surprisingly sympathetic. The story is insane - he, by his own admission, is completely insane - and yet you have to root for him because he and his dogs want this so badly.

But another part of it is likely also my background. I grew up in Anchorage (in fact, I was born the year the race he describes took place), during the transitional time when it was really changing from being a large Alaskan town to a small city, more similar to the rest of the US than Alaska. (The joke these days is that Anchorage is "near Alaska".) In my teens, I moved to a small town in the Arctic, one of the coldest and most desolate places in the world. I've also lived in the Interior, and in Juneau; I've experienced, to a smaller degree, many of the utterly extreme and breathtakingly beautiful scenarios Paulsen talks about.

Something about those experiences, about the place, sticks with you. I may be a self-avowed city girl, far more interested in intellectual pursuits than the primal pitting of the human spirit against nature's fury, but as I've lived and traveled here in the "Lower '48" I've become more and more appreciative of exactly how unique and rare Alaska is in this age of near-overpopulation. And for all my youthful desperation to leave it in pursuit of a place more appropriate to my interests, some part of me is glad - no, some part of me is overjoyed - to be reminded that it's still there; to know that folks like Gary Paulsen can do truly stupid and ridiculous things like run a team of dogs over more than 1,100 miles of wilderness in the midst of some of the harshest weather on this planet, and be better people for it. Who knows - I may even feel the call to return myself, someday.
Profile Image for Tracy.
10 reviews2 followers
April 19, 2012
This is our favorite read-aloud ever. I've homeschooled my children now for about 15 years and in that time, I've read-aloud to them for approximately one hour per day. I probably read this to them for the first time 10 years ago but the "The Skunk Chapter" is still a frequent request on days when we are looking for something to lighten the mood. Every member of my family has this book in hardcover. I've got two copies so that I can lend one without fear.

If you like dogs, you will love this book but it isn't just about dogs, or animals, or even the Iditarod; although, all of those things play a prominent role. It's about being drawn to something that's bigger than you can handle but being unable to resist the pull. It's about beauty. It's about seeing the world in a different way. It's about what happens when your alligator dreams overload your hummingbird behind....you grow and often the growing pains are hysterical. It's about how what you are drawn to, shapes you and changes you and maintaining your sense of humor while it does.

Since I've recommended this as a read-aloud, I'll just add that some on-the-fly editing may be necessary for language issues and younger children. I suggest keeping a chapter ahead so that you know what's coming.
Profile Image for Perri.
1,267 reviews48 followers
December 25, 2018
I learned that the sled dogs love to pull, live to pull, lust to pull. I learned that the men and women who drive dogsleds are swept into the rhythm of the ride; that there's a harmony of unity in the dogs, the sled and the driver. I learned that Alaska is a place of extremes-devastating beauty and danger. And I learned that I would rather travel to darkest Peru, hot air balloon around the world, travel 20000 leagues under the sea, then run an Iditarod race. But it sure was entertaining to read about Paulsen's wild experiences from my cozy chair. His passion for his dogs shines bright. Ordinarily I might have deducted a star for the ending, but I've been online and found out that isn't the real ending of the tale.
Profile Image for Jonathan A..
Author 1 book3 followers
May 12, 2014
Gary Paulsen is crazy. I’m not making this up or being pejorative. He describes himself as a crazy s.o.b. His craziness comes out in his telling of his journey to and through the Iditarod in his book Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod. The book details his beginning love of dogs and sledding, his mad desire to run the Iditarod, and the surreal experiences he encountered in his first running of that iconic race. Paulsen’s book is well written, clear, and often self-effacing. He interjects humor well and does not overplay the dangers or difficulties that he faces. While the writing style tends towards the elementary he does a fine job keeping the reader’s interest and pulling the reader through the race. It is a good read about a major human and canine accomplishment that is not steeped in ego. Especially in the genre of “accomplishment” stories the lack of narcissism is refreshing.

Yet something is missing. In this book Paulsen refers to his wife often but not in depth. She is the wise watcher, the person who observes Paulson as he struggles to prepare in what seems to be a detached manner. She is supportive, she is caring, and at times she is concerned, but we do not have a picture of her with any kind of emotional depth. We do not hear if she was angry with Paulsen for putting the family through the financial stress and mental stress in the planning and preparation. We do not have any insight into their relationship; they do not argue or fight or disagree over Paulsen’s demonstrations of insanity. When Paulsen sleeps with his dogs his wife seems to express indifference.

Add his child to the picture. Paulsen says that he has a son, but it is not clear if his son was born before or after this first race. His son is only mentioned a handful of times and only in passing. Thus while on one hand Paulsen gives us a book about a man’s quest to race, finding himself, overcoming his fears, connecting with nature, etc. On the other hand if you look closely you find a story of a man and his dogs with his family in the background, almost forgotten.

There is a trite, bumper sticker saying that goes “behind every good man is a great woman.” This is supposed to be a coy way of celebrating the presence and activity of women in the world. I do not think it is as helpful as some may purport. It is coy and curt but it also celebrates the silence, the quiet support that many women are expected to offer to their spouses. Such a quiet, behind-the-scenes support means people will tell the stories of the “great men” with a quick reference to the woman who then is not celebrated for her strength and presence in the story. It suggests that the woman’s place is in the background.

I imagine Paulsen’s wife could tell her own story. She could tell a story of helping to tend the dogs, of watching her husband go on a ridiculous journey again and again, of the financial strain, of taking care of their son without Paulsen’s presence (I can only assume but do not know), and of wondering what place she has in her husband’s life – especially with all of those dogs around. Paulsen’s wife has a story. I think this is a good and interesting story and would be worth telling.

There are a multitude of good and interesting and worthwhile stories that are not told because they are painted not important or central or valuable. Yet I argue that this is far from the truth.

Behind every great and exciting story there are many other important and exciting stories that are unsung and unheard. These are the stories that need to be lifted up. These are the stories of mothers and wives or workers and grunts and others who are often overlooked and forgotten. Without the forgotten workers, the dedicated supporters, and the sacrificing helpers, the greats would never achieve their greatness. Rather than telling the story of the “hero,” tell the story of those who make the heroes happen. It is very likely that those stories are more real and more powerful. Celebrate the silent presence that is integral to greatness!
Profile Image for Stephanie A..
2,301 reviews62 followers
November 18, 2014
It surprised me how much I liked this. Not only did it transport me to a rustic way of life up north and provide a virtual ride-along of the Iditarod experience, the engaging writing style brought the passion for this hobby to life. His love for dogs constantly rings clear, even though sled dogs often seem more like half pet and half wild running machine. He's funny, too, when the situation calls for it. I flat-out guffawed when he got sprayed in the face by two different skunks in one training run...a mile apart.

Pairs well with juvenile novel Ice Dogs.
Profile Image for Ashes.
341 reviews39 followers
September 19, 2019
I have two (seemingly conflicting) thoughts after reading this book:

First, by God, I want to adopt dogs, as many dogs as I can handle, go to Alaska and run the Iditarod myself.

Second, by God, am I grateful that I don't have dogs, am not in Alaska and am not running the race.

Then again... wouldn't it be absolutely...mad...and beautiful...to run it or just die trying?

"I'm sorry. I was just running them. Running the dogs." I swallowed more soup and looked at the sky. The cold air was so clear the stars seemed to be falling to the ground. Like you could walk right. . . over . . . there and pick them up just lying on the snow. "I couldn't come back."

It truly is "The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod." And one of the best books I've read this year.
Profile Image for Jimmy.
Author 6 books203 followers
March 15, 2018
There are moments in our life when we realize we are mere mortals. Some things we will never get a chance to do. After reading this book, I am now aware that I will never enter a dog sled team into the Iditarod race. Ah! Mortality!
40 reviews
January 15, 2018
Compelling! Read it in two sittings. Definitely recommend it.
Profile Image for Julie.
170 reviews3 followers
July 27, 2019
Having been in Alaska and heard an Iditarod champion speak about his experiences - albeit briefly - I was quite happy to revisit that world with Gary Paulsen’s book. This book grips from it’s opening pages, and it doesn’t let go - much like the race itself, which Paulsen describes as “relentless.”

Elsewhere, bemused, he struggles to find a way to describe the Iditarod. But at the first checkpoint, when someone asks how he likes it so far, the thoughts that run through his head do the job exceptionally well:

This book is a wild ride. It often had me wondering - as Paulsen does himself - how he managed to survive, not only the race but also the training and preparation phase.

But more than that, much more, Paulsen’s narrative gives the reader a window into the fascinating world of mushers and their dogs. He shows how that special relationship grows between a musher and his team, letting us see the changes which took place within himself (he even eats and sleeps with his dogs), changes which often made him question his own sanity.

Then there’s the race itself, Alaska with all its beauty but also with it’s beyond-belief extremes. And the experiences...from one checkpoint to the next we go along with Paulsen, seeing him fall down the drop-off to a canyon and yet land as if it had all been a perfectly executed move (“Off to the side, the two mushers stood clapping softly. One of them smiled and nodded. “Far out - I’m going to do it that way next year.”) Seeing him wake, after hunkering down in a storm, to find himself surrounded by eleven other teams all buried around him beneath the snow. Seeing him tackle sea ice, cold on the Yukon of 60 below. Seeing buffalo play on ice, and passing through a herd of caribou.

And through all this, he endures hunger and sleep deprivation to the point of hallucinating and yet on and on he goes. The only time he seriously thinks of giving up, this decides it for him:

And there it is - really, it’s all about the dogs. There are dogs like Cookie, loyal and brave, but Paulsen doesn’t sugar-coat. Amongst them there are also some vicious characters, including his own Devil (who kills and eats other dogs). Dogfights are a common feature on the trail. But, as with humans, it takes all sorts, and in the race Paulsen meets those extremes too - those mushers who endanger themselves to help others, set against the one who, in a sad and brutal scene.

He also doesn’t sugar-coat the ending. I have to say it was the only thing which disappointed me. But it doesn’t change what went before. This really is a special book; I would say go ahead and experience it - read, and enjoy the ride.

Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,549 reviews2,537 followers
February 16, 2020
Paulsen’s name was familiar to me from his children’s books – a tomboy, I spent my childhood fascinated by Native American culture, survival skills and animals, and Hatchet was one of my favorite novels. I had no idea he had written books for adults, including this travelogue of competing in the Iditarod sled dog race across the frozen Alaska wilderness. Nearly half the book is devoted to his preparations, before he ever gets to Alaska. He lived in Minnesota and took time assembling what he thought of as a perfect team of dogs, from reliable Cookie, his lead dog, to Devil, whose name says it all. He even starts sleeping in the kennel with the dogs to be fully in tune with them.

The travails of his long trial runs with the dogs – the sled flipping over, having to walk miles after losing control of the dogs, being sprayed in the face by multiple skunks – sound bad enough, but once the Iditarod begins the misery ramps up. The course is nearly 1200 miles, over 17 days. It’s impossible to stay warm or get enough food, and a lack of sleep leads to hallucinations. At one point he nearly goes through thin ice. At another he’s run down by a moose. He also watches in horror as a fellow contestant kicks a dog to death.

Paulsen concludes that you would have to be insane to run the Iditarod, and there’s an appropriately feverish intensity running through the book. The way he describes the bleak beauty of the landscape, you can see how attractive and forbidding it was all at the same time. This is just the kind of adventurous armchair traveling I love (see also This Cold Heaven) – someone else did this, so now I don’t have to! I plan to follow it up with Adam Weymouth’s Kings of the Yukon, which won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award the year before last.

A favorite passage: “time was meaningless. All that counted was distance multiplied by difficulty. And cold.”

(Note: The author completed two races and was training for his third when a diagnosis of coronary heart disease ended his Iditarod career in his mid-forties. More than the obsession, more than the competition, he knows that he’ll miss the constant company of dogs. In fact, his last line is “How can it be to live without the dogs?”)
Profile Image for Summer.
1,353 reviews15 followers
January 30, 2023
A delightful read! This is a true story that will leave you laughing your head off... the perfect read over Christmas!! I was fascinated by all I learned about Alaska and the Iditarod! I do not think it is possible to laugh just once in this book! You can try and prove me wrong however! :) I dare you.

2023: read again with ladies in my co-op. I thought I wouldn’t laugh as much since I already knew where the funny parts were, most of them, but that was not the case. I still died laughing. He is a great story-teller, even if he is still completely crazy. I’m glad he wrote this adventure down because each time I read it I get more out do it. The nature the good and the bad of it, and the call to a simpler life, if not harder life. Since reading nourishing traditions and other Alaskan books like The Eskimo Twins I really appreciate the old man in Norton Sound and his wisdom. I’m also glad I still liked it as much as I did. I always worry about that especially when I read the book B.C. (Before Charlotte) 🤭
Profile Image for Kerri.
630 reviews18 followers
November 9, 2008
I am not one for reading the nonfiction genre, but I really got into this book. Not only did I learn so much about the things involved in running and preparing for the Iditarod, but I also found myself laughing outloud at the most inappropriate times! Paulsen's style of writing made me smile in one chapter and want to cry in the next one.

I found my "teacher" side coming out quite often as I read. There was more than one chapter that caught my eye for various reasons, but the chapter called "Skwentna" has the very best lead for a flashback kind of story! He also created more snapshots and exploding moments than any other book I have read.

Even though there are some questionable situations and a little foul language, I think this is a wonderful book for a teenage guy to read.
Profile Image for Bill.
920 reviews298 followers
February 4, 2008
This is Gary Paulsen's account of his running the Iditarod, a dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. It's fascinating. And hilarious. The predicaments this guy finds himself in before the race even starts made me laugh out loud several times. I'm surprised anyone would
admit to the mishaps he put himself in and publish them but if you can't laugh at yourself.....

Anyway, the race itself is madness. Maybe you don't need to be crazy to want to do this, but to stick with it after the first several hundred torturous miles, given the numerous checkpoints to bail out, you have to be out of your mind.
Still, wow. Anyone who finishes this deserves millions. It's a must read, especially if you like dogs, and if you want to know what cold really is.
Profile Image for Mike Smith.
225 reviews10 followers
May 29, 2013
I remember strongly disliking the hero of the Hatchet series. Now I know why. Gary Paulsen is an idiot. But bless him, he's an idiot with a great memory and a flair for the self-deprecating humor, the kind that leaves you almost as incapacitated as Paulsen being dragged behind a team of Devil clones. Really? He thought buying a sled dog named Devil was a good idea? From then on, nothing shocked me, but it sure did make me laugh. I'm glad he at least kept his wits about him enough to remember what those around him said when they witnessed his lunacy. Not only is the book beautiful, he manages to capture the allure of the Iditarod, and maybe even more importantly, the allure of the insane training runs. I'm just shocked he lived to tell the tale.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,665 reviews441 followers
January 13, 2012
Gary Paulsen's passion in life is running sled dogs. This book is an account of training the dogs in Minnesota and then running the Iditarod, a 1,180 mile race in Alaska. His description of the bond between him and his fifteen dogs is wonderful. Paulsen is an exciting, humorous storyteller who will glue the reader to the page until the end of the punishing race. He came close to death several times during the race, but chose to go back and race the Iditarod again two years later. I recommend this book to anyone who would like to read a good adventure set in a frigid, beautiful area.
463 reviews11 followers
September 4, 2015
The book was okay. The author had some pretty neat experiences that were interesting to read about. The writing, however, was mediocre and reminiscent of 80's YA. It's like he's trying to hard to pound into our heads about how meaningful his experience was, instead of just telling us the story and letting us figure it out on our own. Plus every two pages there was some variation of, "I was arrogant and thought it couldn't possibly get any harder. Little did I know, it would." It got old quick. But if you're interested in the subject I would recommend the book anyway.
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