Alone Across the Arctic: One Woman's Epic Journey by Dog Team
Pam Flowers with Ann Dixon
Alaska Northwest Books, 2001.
Reviewed by Lorrie Beaver Levesque
In 1923-24, Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen and two Inuit from Greenland (one of them being a woman named Anarulunguag ) traveled the North American Arctic coast by dog team, moving from east to west to complete the 2,500 mile journey.
In 1992, Pam Flowers became the first woman and first American to solo on the same journey (the only difference being she traveled west to east) with her eight dog sled team. At the time of her journey, Flowers was 46 years old, stood 5 foot tall, and weighed 100 pounds. Her slight build, which caused many to doubt her ability to complete the journey, ended up at one life or death moment to be an advantage: her dogs pulled her from a certain frigid watery death when ice broke beneath her feet.
This was no foolish dream. Flowers had lived an active rugged life in Alaska, and had extensive experience in arctic dog sledding, including the Iditarod. The care and feeding of her dogs (Flowers bred, raised, and trained her team) always took precedence over her own comforts throughout the trip. The preparation and physical training of both Flowers and her team, and the planning that went into the trip make fascinating reading. Clearly, Flowers was an individual who understood what she was up against and properly prepared for it.
The book is beautifully photographed at each stage of the journey. Maps and illustrations abound, and are pleasing to the eye. Flowers is careful to throw a well-balanced mix of statistics, arctic facts, history, drama, comedy, and danger into her narrative. It is a fast and exciting read.
The fortitude it must have taken for Flowers to keep her journal after a day of travel and hours setting up camp and taking care of her dogs is to be admired.
Flowers followed a typical routine of arising at 6:30AM, feeding the dogs, feeding herself (the dogs always ate first), breaking down camp, loading the sleds, and taking weather measurements approximately 8:00 AM. Usually they were moving by 8:45AM. They stopped for lunch around 1:00PM. By 6:30PM, Flowers would have found a place to set up camp for the night. During the darkest days on winter, Flowers had to limit her travel to a three-hour period between 11:30AM and 2:30 PM during the "twilight" period of the day.
The true stars of this book are the dogs. The reader is introduced to each one with a close up facial photograph and biography at the beginning of the book and the enchantment begins. The reader laughs at their antics, marvels at their ability to find their way through blizzard and ice fields (in fact, the lead dog Douggie proved to be more reliable than any map or GPS), and thrills at the dogs courage in the face of danger be it a polar bear or ice collapsing beneath their feet.
This book is highly recommended for all individuals interested in Arctic exploration or dog sledding. The publisher has also included a very detailed study guide for educators and Flowers has a web site (www.pamflowers.com). She is touring the United States during the winter and spring of 2002 to give lectures to elementary schools, libraries, Siberian Husky Clubs, and Sierra Club members. This reviewer hopes to catch her lecture in Indianapolis in April.