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From Barnes & NobleIn YUKON ALONE: THE WORLD'S TOUGHEST ADVENTURE RACE, writer John Balzar tells the story of the 1998 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race between Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and Fairbanks, Alaska. An annual race founded in response to the "commerciality" of the famous Iditarod race, the Quest, as it's called by mushers and Alaskans alike, takes place under conditions that are much more extreme. The Quest boldly tests the endurance of both humans and dogs in a setting "where the snow underfoot is so crystalline hard it rubs like sandpaper, and every incoming breath burns like fire because the sting of deep, dry cold feels much the same as a flame."
John Balzar is a journalist who has spent a decade in the Far North. He's lived with Eskimos, gone whaling in the Beaufort Sea, paddled boats as a wilderness guide, and led backpack trips throughout the state. Reading his prose you understand why a lean and sparse style much like Jack London's surfaced in these stories. As Balzar puts it, ballpoint pens and ink both freeze. Pencils work, but writing is difficult with three-inch thick gloves. Therefore, be concise.
One of the most poignant elements in YUKON ALONE is the story of the dogs. A variety consisting mainly of huskies, the sled dogs are bred and trained mostly by the mushers themselves, who develop a close intoxicating relationship with the dogs. The team of dogs must work harmoniously together on the trail. Speed, temperament, endurance, and zeal are essential qualities. A good sled dog, it is said, knows what to do at rest stops: rest. "As important as these qualities is the intangible called 'head'," writes Balzar, "which is really a combination of guts and drive: the fortitude to run 12 or 14 hours of every 24 for 2 consecutive weeks."
You won't need to be a Jack London fan to enjoy Balzar's story. If anything Balzar has reconfirmed the veracity of London's tales of the Far North with one stranger-than-fiction addition: After seventeen years of the Quest, the people, the elements, and the desire to race remain wholly intact.
Kevin Giordano is a freelancer based in New York.