Just what I needed. It was a snowy afternoon in Vermont and I was bored. I picked up Moderow’s Fast into the Night: A Woman, Her Dogs, and Their Journey North on the Iditarod Trail from the pile of books next to my bed. I started the memoir and then put it down. Why? I knew I wanted to settle into it, and have a chance to read a good chunk undisturbed.
Dogs walked and fed. Snacks on a plate. PJs on. Glass of Malbec. Back to the memoir.
And what an amazing memoir. What an amazing world she brought us into. Iditarod, the Alaskan landscape, the characters, the dogs, and her family’s support. Incredible. I pulled up the covers and kept reading.
Moderow is passionate and compassionate. Her focus was constantly on the comfort and health of her team of dogs. She was so in tune with the needs of their individual needs and personalities. She wouldn’t put them in danger just to finish Iditarod. That would have gone against her integrity and heart. You have to respect her for that. Her goal was simply–if it could be simple–to complete the course with happy and healthy dogs. She tried twice, once in 2003 and again two years later. She finished with a healthy team in 13 days, 19 hours, 10 minutes and 32 seconds.
Moderow captures her characters so well, the four and two legged ones, that we see her all the more clearly too. Moderow, even when struggling so intensely, carried on. This is bravery in action. She is such a role model for following your dreams without hurting others. Incredible, her internal and external journey.
Fast into the Night is written in the present tense, and takes us into the moment to moment challenges she faced as a rookie, including preparation, dressing for such cold, as well as the colors and images of that first day: “Sixteen huskies donning crimson harnesses charge into the chute.”
The first chapters were so immersive. At the start of the race and the book, Moderow spent time with each of her dogs, one by one, walking along the team and so introducing us to all sixteen of the family. “Kanga is a serious brown girl with a tan trim. She knows more about Iditarod than I do. Juliet is my playful Tinker Bell. She’s the whimsical cheerleader, my tiny grey spitfire who runs up front with a light-hearted disposition.”
Her first few hours of the race set the pace for the next two weeks on the trail. “When the team scrambles up an icy bank and the sled ricochets around a tight, dark wooded corner, I exhale relief.”
Yes, so did I. Time for another glass of wine and a snack. The snow still fell outside my apartment in town. I had it easy. Moderow didn’t. She tells us how she had to “cover my nose with my neck gaiter, and my goggles fog up. To take them off would risk my eyes, so every few minutes I scrape ice from the lenses with the back of my arctic mittens.”
Details such as those kept me turning pages; her story just stunned me; and the level of cold and endurance was beyond impressive. “A granola bar – it’s frozen and the last thing I need is a broken tooth. So I stuff it into my armpit to thaw.”
As you do, nothing unusual, right? Sheesh. I read on, huddled in my little bed with my two well-fed Huskie mutts on the end of my bed. No, we’d not be trying this ourselves.
Iditarod is a challenge, obviously. There’s the physical conditions, but also there are the emotional hurdles she faced. There were times when she had to make potentially life-altering decisions when so completely drained and exhausted that clear thought was not easily grasped. What was best for each of her dogs? When should she ‘scratch’ even if the volunteers showed no compassion for her place and experience? I wanted her to make it. I knew she ultimately did from the blurb on the back, but I wanted to know how. How did she do it? What kept her going?
“I stand alongside my dogs and everything is quiet. It’s the profound stillness that arrives in a flash, when everything changes.”
You’ll have to read it yourselves if you want to find out how. Please do.
Fast into the Night: A Woman, Her Dogs, and Their Journey North on the Iditarod Trail
By: Debbie Clarke Moderow
Memoir, 288 pages, $16.95
Red Hen Press (June 2018)