December 12, 2005

"Yukon Alone"

The Worlds Toughest
Adventure Race
by John Balzar

Book Description
The International Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race is one of the most challenging sporting events in the world. Every February, a handful of hardy souls spends over two weeks racing sleds pulled by fourteen dogs over 1,023 miles of frozen rivers, icy mountain passes, and spruce forests as big as entire states, facing temperatures that drop to forty degrees below zero on nights that are seventeen hours long. Why would anyone want to enter this race? John Balzar-who moved to Alaska and lived on the trail-treats us to a vivid account of the grueling race itself, offering an insightful look at the men and women who have moved to this rugged and beautiful place. Readers will also be fascinated by Balzar's account of what goes into the training and care of the majestic dogs who pull the sleds and whose courage, strength, and devotion make them the true heroes of this story.

Meaningful Quotes:
"It's always been my thought that money would interfere with the fun I want to have in life." Joe May

Only some of us are nomads in each generation. There are those who are content to stay in one place and those with an itch under their feet.

America seemed to be largely a numbers game - the tally on the stock market for the well off, the daily lottery picks for the poor.

Sometimes we had a destination and other times not. Joy was derived from movement. Out there on the road, I learned no one bothered you. Yet you had not succumbed to idleness. You had in fact, done something. Forward motion almost always meets the test of worthwhile activity. When I am traveling I never feel I should be doing something else. I always feel I am on the verge.

Boredom is the precursor to despair. And I am not alone in believing that a chief source of boredom in our civilized, acquisitive, urban-crowded modern culture is that absence of unknown places and peoples to inflame our imaginations.

In summer, true enough, the Alaska-Canada Highway and it's tributaries are the scene of great migration of steel and pressed aluminum, the vacation herds.

In the end, all of us bus riders will be tired, stiff and hung-over on arrival, 'de rigeur' it seems. What fun would it be to begin this thing in tip-top shape anyway? Bring on the agonies.

Once in a while, it is even possible to reawaken ancient feelings that one might actually discover something, a sensation that sustained the curious mind through millions of years of evolutionary history.

Mistakes in this wilderness are dangerous, sometimes deadly so. But it was the Scottish poet and adventurer Alexander Smith who made sense of such endeavors as this. "Everything," he said, "is sweetened by risk."

Adventure isn't only when something goes wrong, it's when 'something' is sure to happen. The greater the intensity of that 'something' the more sublime the adventure. Risk and reward grow on the same stalk - isn't that what the proverb says?

So many of us have reduced the concept of adventure to just another recreation, a diversion from the otherwise ordinary ambitions of living. The 'New York Time Magazine' recently ran a story with a snide, but telling headline: "Going Where a Lot of Other Dudes with Really Great Equipment Have Gone Before - The Call of the Pseudo-Wild"

Nature had intensity, direction, confidence, an elegant sureness of procedure, a sensibility of life.

There is a reason why most of humankind's spiritual orthodoxy's require commitment of soul before the soul can be redeemed. It is the same reason why our satisfaction with our religions, for worse and for better, depends entirely on our ability to give ourselves over to them. This same maxim explains why authentic adventurers are such single-minded types whose experiences can be emulated but seldom duplicated.

Tonight, on the trail of the Yukon Quest, there is no guide or guidebook, no schedule, and no amount of money that could lead the casual adventurist to this circumstance where, just this moment, the heavens open and embrace a man for his devotion to the trail.

The two were frightened of bears. But don't make fun of them. That's exactly why they came, to experience nature, to feel what they could only read about back home. To flush the carbon monoxide from their spirits, recalibrate those internal gyroscopes by which we set the course of our lives, to exist. Momentarily, in the present, and no doubt to spice their lovemaking with the knowledge that honest predators worked outside their rope perimeter, ready to challenge them for the top rung of the food chain. ...we must travel in the direction of our fears.

Like some other bush rats scattered around up here, he does not see himself as retreating our running away. He lives on the far edge of civilization... less an escape from contemporary society than a determined pursuit of a more harmonious way of life.

Yukon Alone available at Powells and Amazon