- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (February 17, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393325709
- ISBN-13: 978-0393325706
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 192 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #88,174 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic Paperback – February 17, 2005
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“A classic tale of man against nature.”
- Sara Wheeler, New York Times Book Review
“Quite literally a cliff hanger.”
- Emily Carter, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Stirring passages detailing the rigors of dogsledding, the bond between man and beast, and the importance of a good lead dog make for irresistible Jack London kind of stuff.”
- David Stress, Seattle Weekly
“Sequence by sequence the Salisburys have written not only about a race but also about our Alaskan history and the hardy people who first came, both Native and non-Native, to make our history so rich.”
- Velma Wallis, author of Two Old Women
“A scrupulously researched, cleanly written account that makes for a rollicking good adventure.”
- Alice King, Entertainment Weekly
“This a moving story, superbly researched and deftly told.”
- Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm
About the Author
Gay Salisbury is the former associate publisher of Basic Books. She splits her time between Fairbanks, Alaska, and New York City.
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In 1925 the mail was delivered to Nome by dog sled. At that time as today, Nome was completely isolated from the other towns in Alaska during the winter months as there are no roads, In summer it is reached by ship, but during the winter the only way to get there is by dog sled. It's a long trip. The 1925 event utilized numerous dog teams that relayed the serum to Nome much like the Pony Express. There were around 20 men each with their own dog team involved in the effort. Some teams carried the serum as little as 18 miles while the most arduous run was 91 miles done by the renowned musher, Leanard Seppala with his lead dog Togo which he had raised from a puppy. The serum finally arrived in Nome carried by Gunnar Kaasen, with lead dog Balto who subsequently received much notoriety. There is even a bronze statue of Balto in NYC's Central Park honoring his heroism. However, every dog team deserves credit for their part in this 674 mile race against time which took 5 and 1/2 days. Dog teams are very dependent on the lead dog and not just any member of the dog team can take the place of lead dog. Just like with humans, there are leaders, and there are followers. The 1925 event took place in extremely cold and harsh conditions. Even with many dog teams and men, it required courage, stamina and knowhow. The dogs teams of 1925 were mostly Malamutes and Siberian Huskies with thick double coats well suited to the extreme conditions. These dogs can be comfortable in 50 below zero conditions. Much of this is in contrast to the modern day Iditarod race.
The modern day Iditarod was established in 1973 to commemorate the 1925 run. What is different is that the modern race is farther, around 1,000 miles in length; and single dog teams limited to no more than 16 dog run the entire distance with a single musher. The modern dogs are different in that they are bred for speed and are not as well suited to the cold as the classic Alaskan dogs. Nevertheless they run the race faster albeit sometimes with jackets on their backs, and boots on their feet. The modern race has mandatory check points, and rest stops with food delivered to the dogs by airplane. Veterinarians are stationed at each check point and check the health and condition of the dogs. Any dogs which are sick or injured are ferried back by Bush Pilots to receive proper veterinary care and then loving friendship from the inmates of the state prison. While dogs can be dropped from the team by the musher or at the insistence of a veterinarian, no fresh dogs may be added. There is just a single musher who must complete the race by him or herself with their own team. The trail of the modern race is well marked. I'm not sure that it was in 1925 I believe it was more up to the dogs to stay on the path. In any case it is the lead dog that has a great ability to sense the suitability of the trail.
The take away from both events is man's special relationship with dogs and their loyalty to man. The dogs love to run, and the shared of weight they pull is not great for each individual dog. Nevertheless it takes great stamina to win or even complete the race. About half of the modern competitors give up on the race before they reach Nome. It's not possible to win the race by abusing the dogs. A good musher has to know their limits and encourage the dogs to perform their best. To win the dogs by necessity need adequate rest and proper nutrition. The musher too, must get enough sleep, although at times the musher can catch a "cat nap" on the sled as the hearty dogs pull on. The winning dog team seems to know that they are in the lead and they are reluctant to give it up to another team. In reality all the dog teams cover the ground at about the same speed. It is the craftiness, good judgment, and endurance of the musher that brings home the big prize. It's not like a short horse race were the animal is spurred up to full speed. The dogs do it because they love running on the trail, and they love the humans who support them. The dogs carry on for not only hours, but days at the same pace of between 7 and 10 MPH.
I found this book to be a great read, as it increased my knowledge of dogs' special abilities and their relationships with the humans who breed and care for them. The book brought tears to my eyes and a stuffy nose on many occasions. What more can I say?
But I mean, what's not to love about a story of a dogs, their masters, and a race against time and the elements to stop an epidemic that is quickly consuming the children of Nome Alaska? This book will make your heart beat faster. You will find yourself catching your breathe as these brave men encounter situations that would stop the hardiest of individuals.
I was over halfway through the book one night when I started reading thinking that I'd doze off. This was at 11 PM. When I happened to glance at the clock next it read 5:30 AM. I was a mess the rest of the day...LOL. But I had to finish it that day. I couldn't put it down. I loved at the end after the story there was more personal information concerning those specific individuals involved in the heroic endeavor.
If you like dogs and are even remotely intrigued by Alaska I encourage you to read this book. I certainly wasn't disappointed.
Granted, there are some filler chapters as they talk about the native style of life and how mukluks etc are made, but these parts are short enough that interest is not lost and they don't interrupt the flow of the narrative either.
I've purchased this book three times now: Once for myself and twice as a gift. This is an excellent book for anyone who has an interest in history, medicine, dogs and the story behind the fiction