Readable but dispensable account of the author’s valiant immersion in the Yukon’s storied dogsledding culture.
“I was going to spend eleven weeks, in the heart of winter, in one of the most inhospitable climes on earth,” writes London-based travel writer Evans (On a Hoof and a Prayer, 2008, etc.), facing the latest of her physically demanding Everywoman adventures with clear-eyed objectivity. She was initially lured by the romantic prospect of working with Yukon sled dogs at Muktuk Kennels, home to some of Canada’s most revered “mushers.” Her plan was to begin with menial work (cleaning out excrement-filled dog kennels) and eventually advance to command a team of sled dogs. The setup promises thrill-a-minute immersion journalism, but Evans delivers a disappointingly secondhand drama. She constantly interrupts her personal narrative to lapse into library-research mode. It seems she’s more comfortable reveling in the woodsy musings of Robert Service, Jack London and other famous writers and poets of the Arctic, or getting vicarious thrills from the exploits of early 20th-century Yukon explorers and gold-hunters. Although Evans’ fascination with the land and its zoological and environmental extremes can make for inspired prose—very few writers have described a mere snowflake with such attentiveness—the constant shifting from hapless amateur dogsledder and kennel custodian to dilettantish Yukon history buff becomes an annoying tactic. Evans maintains admirably defiant enthusiasm in the midst of her bumbling attempts to mix with the filthy, sometimes recalcitrant sled dogs while fending off sickness and frostbite. Unfortunately, the camp banter with her musher mates never seems to go beyond the most cursory conversational snippets. Her sledding companions possess nary a shred of puckish wit nor the slightest predilection for the sort of late-night campfire mischief expected from life-on-the-edge outdoors types.
A bold undertaking to be sure, but woefully short on dramatic tension and attention-sustaining adventure.