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Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod Paperback – February 17, 1995

4.8 out of 5 stars 331 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Fueled by a passion for running dogs, Gary Paulsen entered the Iditarod--the 1150-mile winter sled-dog race between Anchorage and Nome-- in dangerous ignorance and with a fierce determination. Winterdance is his account of this seventeen-day battle against Nature's worst elements and his own frailty.

From Publishers Weekly

Acclaimed children's book author Paulsen offers a gripping account of his experience running the 1180 mile Iditarod dogsled race.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (February 17, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156001454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156001458
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (331 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I made the grave mistake of trying to read this book while on a public bus. It wasn't long before I realized the folly in this, as I repeatedly had to stifle the wild guffaws that threatened to pour forth without my consent. The other passengers probably came to the conclusion that I was either very sick or slightly deranged as I rocked back and forth in my seat and tried to pretend that I was, in fact, merely coughing. Gary Paulsen has offered us one of the most hilarious accounts of running the Iditarod that I have ever come across.
Living in Minnesota, Paulsen had a small team of five dogs that he used to work his traplines. Over time he became more and more entranced with mushing, until he eventually realized that wanted to, needed to, run the Iditarod - the 1,100+ mile dogsled race stretching across the state of Alaska between Anchorage and Nome. The first half of the book deals with his preparation for the race - finding more dogs, training the dogs, getting the right equipment, etc. We soon see that he has quite a bit to learn. Over the course of this training period, Paulsen finds himself attacked by dogs, run away with by dogs, and often spending many miles being dragged along on the ground behind his sled by dogs. He manages to break his sled repeatedly, get separated from his team, and one night, get sprayed by five different skunks in rapid succession. He is, in short, one of the least qualified of all possible Iditarod candidates.
The second half of the book takes us through the race itself. In the beginning, he makes every possible rookie mistake. He gets lost before even leaving the city of Anchorage, after putting the wrong animal in the lead-dog position:
"We went through people's yards, ripped down fences, knocked over garbage cans.
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Format: Hardcover
Winterdance by Gary Paulsen is an absolutely fascinating and entertaining depiction about how one man lives out his dream of running in the Iditarod sled-dog race. From the moment we meet Gary and his dog team in a winter storm in Minnesota till the time he gets dragged down Dalzell Gorge in Alaska, his optimism, his observations and his relationship with his dogs keeps one glued to the pages of this book.

Paulsen's personal account is easy reading in that he does not dwell in complex literary style, use large words or go overboard in describing deep characters or flowery scenery. He merely relates what he sees and feels. Often his mission is just staying alive and attached to his sled. His descriptions about his summer training with a bicycle and a car body leave you laughing out loud and in wonder about his perseverance and dedication to his dream" You look like a toy", Ruth (his wife) said as I came back from being dragged out of the yard on my face, hanging on to the overturned rig. " A big doggie toy...."Out of the first twenty runs, I didn't once leave the yard in one piece." His sense of humor is overwhelming as he tackles training a dog team without any instruction, without a book or manual but only his desire to run dogs to keep him going. `In subsequent runs 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....
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Format: Paperback
This book packs quite a punch. Each chapter ended with this reader wincing for the author, who had just spent the night stumbling through a Minnesota swamp, his eyes almost swollen shut from mosquito bites, searching for his runaway dog team, or had been blown down an Alaskan mountainside with his team, in the midst of a blinding snowstorm.
Not to mention the five-skunk night.
It takes a great deal of physical as well as mental toughness to train for the Iditarod, much less run a team of half-wild dogs in the actual race.
"Winterdance" reminds me of Algernon Blackwood's "Wendigo:" in both stories men are caught by the spirit of the Great Northern Wilderness, and perish or almost perish. I think the most telling moment in Paulsen's book comes when he runs his team to the end of his trapline---and then keeps on going in the dead of a Minnesota winter, just to see what lies beyond the next hill. His wife's intuition to call out a search team was correct, even though Paulsen eventually did turn back. The 'Wendigo' or wanderlust had almost captured his soul.
It also reminds me of "Call of the Wild." Like Jack London, Paulsen has a laconic, fluid writing style, and both authors include the Wilderness itself as one of their major characters. I won't say that either man subscribed to Blackwood's weird brand of pantheistic mysticism, but read how Paulsen slowly bonds with his dogs--and other wild animals.
This book is also a grand dog story with more pratfalls than a "Three Stooges" movie. The author spent many a night on his backside, being dragged down a dirt road (or worse, through a second-growth forest) by his lusty team. Running the Iditarod takes a very special madness, and Paulsen endured moose attacks, blizzards, dog bites, and too many helpings of moose chili to draw us into his very beautiful and brutal world.
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