Books detail adventures along the Iditarod trail

Posted: Sunday, March 03, 2002

"Iditarod: The Great Race to Nome," text by Bill Sherwonit, photography by Jeff Schultz (Sasquatch Books, paperback, $21.95, 144 pages, 95 color and 15 black and white photos).

"Storm Run: The Story of the First Woman to Win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race" by Libby Riddles, illustrated by Shannon Cartwright (Sasquatch Books, 48 pages, hard cover $16.95; soft cover, $9.95).

The 30th Iditarod Sled Dog Race headed for the hills Saturday. Two new books explain the history of the race and the challenges it offers to those who compete in it.

"Iditarod: The Great Race to Nome" tells you everything you need to know about the gold rush town of Iditarod, about the winter mail run from Seward over a route that came to be called the Iditarod Trail, and how the modern race came about through the interest of Joe Redington, Vi Redington and Dorothy Page. Quotes from mushers enliven the text, with an index making it easy to locate your favorite personalities.

Photos are aerials as well as distance shots and close-ups, and show very well the conditions of the trail, the dedication and ultimate exhaustion of mushers and the excitement of spectators.

The original Iditarod book by Bill Sherwonit was published in 1991 by Alaska Northwest Books. That volume is out of print. For this new version, author Sherwonit, an Anchorage freelance writer who covered the Iditarod for more than a decade as a journalist, created mostly new material. "Only three or four of the history chapters are the same," he said in an interview. "The rest of the text by decades and the evolution of the race is all new."

Photographer Jeff Schultz has been an official photographer for the Iditarod Trail Committee since 1982. His images have appeared in numerous books, calendars and magazines, including "National Geographic" and "Audubon." The combination of Sherwonit's and Schultz's talents yields an attractive, fact- and personality-packed book that readers and browsers will return to again and again.

In 1985, Libby Riddles made sports history by becoming the first woman to win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. "Storm Run," her story of this accomplishment, is aimed at children, but the blow-by-blow acount of her battle with an arctic storm, exposure, wet clothing and freezing temperatures has plenty of attraction for adults as well. The first edition of this book was published in 1993. The story has an honesty and directness that are most appealing.

Riddles moved to Alaska in 1973 at age 16. She learns to build her own cabin, carry water from a mountain stream and starts building her own sled-dog team. She ran her first Iditarod in 1980. Photos help to tell much of this part of the story, as prologue to her 1985 determination to mush when others were holed up due to bad weather.

Illustrator Shannon Cartwright is ideally qualified to illustrate "Storm Run" because she knows dogs and wilderness Alaska well. For the last 28 years, she has lived chiefly in the "bush" far from roads, in the Talkeetna Mountains. She and her husband and their two dogs travel among their three cabins by hiking and skiing, hauling in their supplied with packhorses or snowmachine. She heats and cooks with wood, and lights her work area with solar energy.

"When I work on a book at my winter cabin I either have my mail airdropped, or it gets flown into an airstrip seven miles away, and I'll ski there and back with my dog Cirrus pulling the mail on his sled," Cartwright said.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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