Blair Braverman's memoir, Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube, is one of those books--the ones that catch you off guard, stick with you, and challenge you to evaluate your place in life. Whether or not you are a fan of all things dog sledding, dream of escapes into the wilderness, or simply are fascinated by the human story - this memoir will reach out, grab you, and simply not let go. We asked Braverman if she would mind telling us a little bit more…Thankfully she obliged:
I just had puppies. I mean, my lead dog did, but I can’t help but think of them as a collaboration. Pepe—pronounced Peppy—got fat in a funny way, her spine protruding as her belly sank, and when she finally gave birth, it was to ten squirmy, squeaky hamsters. I’d been watching her for days, waiting for the contractions to start, and had just gone into the yard to do some quick chores during a break in the rain. When I came back in, I thought she’d found a new squeaky toy. But it was a pup the size of a lemon, already dry and nuzzling, with the kind of black mask around its eyes typical to “bad guy huskies” in Disney movies. So much strength for something tiny.
She had ten overall, including two pure white pups born that night after I went to bed. In the morning I sat beside her, stroking those ten satin-furred backs, touching those miniature paws. I stroked the pads of one paw with my fingertip; my fingertip was bigger.
Someday, I thought, someday not too far away, these magic little paws are going to pull me 1,100 miles across Alaska.
Whenever people find out I’m a dogsledder, they ask me if I've been in the Iditarod. Which is kind of like asking your friends who jog if they’ve run in the Olympics. My guffaws haven't tended to go over so well, so I finally developed a stock answer that worked: “Maybe I will someday, if I can afford it.” Nobody can argue with affordability, and besides, I certainly wouldn’t turn it down if someone offered me the $30,000-$100,000 typically required to train for and compete in the Last Great Race on Earth.
I grew up an Arctic-obsessed kid in hot California, and have been dogsledding for ten years now, ever since I moved to the Arctic at 18 to attend a socialist boarding school dedicated to sled dogs and extreme wilderness survival. From there, I set my sights on Alaska, where I lived on a glacier with 200 huskies for a total of seven months. I was a dogsled guide at a tourist camp, and eight times a day, five helicopters would appear as dots in the distant white-gray sky, roaring closer until they had deposited thirty cruise ship tourists onto the endless, brilliant icefield. My job, in part, was to pretend like none of this was crazy.
I was a popular guide, maybe because I was one of the only girls. Women told me I reminded them of themselves; men asked if I had a boyfriend. I did. He lived in the tent next to mine—except for the times, at night, when he would creep into my sleeping bag and pry my legs apart. I’d learned that the only way for me to get by on the ice was to ignore my own body.
Those were hard months, but I rode out the rest of the season, trudging through my tasks, taking solace in the joyful dogs. When my job ended and I finally left the glacier, I thought I was probably leaving the North for good. After all, hadn't I failed at the tasks it required of me? That seemed to be what my boyfriend thought: that I was too fearful, too emotional, too girlish. Too soft for such a hard land. At the time, I didn't understand what it was about life on the glacier that made me so unhappy; I just knew I was ashamed.
Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube was, for me, a project of going back to the North years after I left it. Either to find my home there, or to put my obsession to rest--I didn't know. Over the next three years, I ended up in a village of around 40 people, located 200 miles above the Arctic circle. I fell hard for the sailors and ex-seal-hunters who spent their days telling stories around a coffee table, for the shopkeeper who tended to his aging bachelors as carefully as he tended his flock of sheep. And it was there, from the safety of a community I came to trust, that I was finally able to look back at the journeys that had brought me to that place. The truths about myself and my experience that I’d been trying so hard to ignore, deny, avoid.
I live in northern Wisconsin now, with my fiancé, a former cowboy who built our house out of logs that he skidded from the forest with a team of draft horses. I have, at last, my own sled dogs. They live in little wooden houses in a perfect ring in the field behind my bedroom window; they are my first thought, my first task, when I wake up, and their needs and rhythms dictate my days. I started racing them short distances a few years back, 20 or 40 miles at a time, and have gradually moved up to longer routes: this past winter, I entered three races between 100 and 250 miles. What I’ve found, on the trail, watching my dogs run and explore, push forward through drifts and follow the scents of wild animals, is that I want to run with them forever. Their joy is addictive, and the snow-draped trails an endless invitation, and no sooner have the dogs stopped for food or water than they’re leaping to run again and again.
It was on one of those silent trails, this past spring, that I decided to go for the Iditarod. Me and my dogs—we’ll get there. We've got this, and we've got it down. Because we never want it to end.
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