Monday, April 20, 2020

This Much Country - Kristin Knight Pace

Summary: A memoir of heartbreak, thousand-mile races, the endless Alaskan wilderness and many, many dogs from one of only a handful of women to have completed both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod.

In 2009, after a crippling divorce that left her heartbroken and directionless, Kristin decided to accept an offer to live at a friend's cabin outside of Denali National Park in Alaska for a few months. In exchange for housing, she would take care of her friend's eight sled dogs.

That winter, she learned that she was tougher than she ever knew. She learned how to survive in one of the most remote places on earth and she learned she was strong enough to be alone. She fell in love twice: first with running sled dogs, and then with Andy, a gentle man who had himself moved to Alaska to heal a broken heart.

Kristin and Andy married and started a sled dog kennel. While this work was enormously satisfying, Kristin became determined to complete the Iditarod -- the 1,000-mile dogsled race from Anchorage, in south central Alaska, to Nome on the western Bering Sea coast.

THIS MUCH COUNTRY is the story of renewal and transformation. It's about journeying across a wild and unpredictable landscape and finding inner peace, courage and a true home. It's about pushing boundaries and overcoming paralyzing fears. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  In my review of How Quickly She Disappears a few weeks ago, I mentioned how I’m on an Alaska kick. Well, this is following in that same pattern, only this time it written by a female dog musher in Alaska, which is just awesome on so many levels.

My mom is big into reading true stories—true crime, adventure, history, etc. She always tells us that there is nothing better than a story that’s true. While I don’t necessarily agree that there is nothing better, I certainly do enjoy a good true story. My mom was visiting me recently and was here for a week, and during that time she read this entire book. She was just riveted by the story and how cool Kristin Knight Pace is. She basically couldn’t put it down! My mom reads a lot, but I knew that she especially liked this book so I thought I’d check it out.

First of all, as I’ve said before, I’m really on an Alaska kick. I’ve been there once, but it’s been many years. Decades, actually. Even though I was only 14 when I went, it made a huge impression on me. As a 14-year-old I wouldn’t say that I was particularly aware of my surroundings. Maybe this is how all 14-year-olds are, but I feel like I just kind of moved along, doing my thing, living my life. Alaska, however, made a huge impression on me. I remember just looking around at how different everything looked, how interesting the wildlife and outdoors were, how different the plant life was to what I was used to, and even how unique it was that it would stay light well into the middle of the night. One thing I loved about this book was that it brought me right back to that wonder and awe and made Alaska a huge main character. The cold, the darkness (and the light), the wilderness of it…it was all there. If you’ve read anything about Alaska, you know that they talk about the remoteness of the lifestyle there. There is no running out of something minor and running down to Wal-Mart. There are some cities, of course, where this would be more the norm, but most of Alaska is rural and isolated and the people like it that way. I love how Kristin Knight Pace described this—and the fact that she lived alone for a lot of the book and did most things by herself was just so impressive. I was just blown away by her bravery and sense of adventure. She writes about Alaska with such fondness and yet such reality you can’t help but appreciate it for what it is. Although I can’t see myself every moving to the Yukon and taking up homesteading, I love that there are people out there who crave and embark on this kind of adventure. This wasn’t even really the start of her adventure, though. She’d been adventuring ever since she graduated from high school. She came from a background that would not naturally lead to this at all, and I loved reading about her free spirit and how supportive her parents were in all of her adventures and cool things she had done.

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a ton about dog sledding. I’ve heard of the Iditarod, of course, but I had no idea of all the other dog sled races nor did I know much of anything other than just that there were dog mushers out there. Did you know that men and women compete as equals in dog sledding? A dog musher is just a dog musher, and I love that men and women compete head to head in this event. Kristin Knight Pace does an exceptional job of talking about taking care of the the dogs, and what it takes to be a professional dog musher. Her lifestyle was just so foreign to me and yet she describes it so well and in such descriptive terms that I felt like I was right there with her. This is definitely one of the biggest strengths of the book—she is a great writer. She tells it how it is and keeps you hooked from page one until the end. Not only is she a great writer, but she has so many interesting stories to tell as well. Her experience is so varied and deep that there is just a lot to explore there. This is a young woman who has lived a full life and knows how to embrace life and live out their dreams.  Obviously I’m not the only person who thinks this because she has done a ton of interviews with various news agencies, including National Geographic. I spent quite a bit of time looking up YouTube interviews with her, and she’s just as engaging in real life as she is in her book. Here are just a few things I learned from this book to help you whet your palate:

·         Because the dogs she breeds and uses to dogsled are so close to wolves, there will often be packs of wolves that run adjacent to her sled in the forest while she's dog sledding.
·         Some of the most decorated dog mushers are women.
·         Some parts of the long dog races are actually run on dirt as the snow is gone.
·         An ideal temperature to run the dogs is about -40 F.
·         Every time the dog mushers stop for a rest during the race, they have to put out straw for all the dogs, take off their booties, heat up snow to turn to water to heat up their food, feed the dogs. Then the musher will lay down for a couple hour nap with the dogs before they all get up and take off again.

If you are looking for a fun true adventure book, especially one with a very cool female protagonist, I highly recommend this book. It was engaging, interesting, well-written, eye-opening, and a seriously good read.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is lots of language and some discussion of sex, as well as some threatening sexual advances made by men towards women.

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