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Bookends: On the dogsled trail to Dawson in the 1970s November 25, 2014

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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It’s only fair to say that the author hated this review and, in my own defence, a couple of people who read the book told me I was too kind.

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Bookends: On the dogsled trail to Dawson in the 1970s

By Dan Davidson

May 7, 2014

– 735 words –

 

Dog Team to Dawson: A Quest for the Cosmic Bannock and other Yukon Stories

By Bruce T. BatchelorDog Team to Dawson

Agio Publishing House

267 pages

$37.51

 

Bruce Batchelor was still a bachelor when most of the stories in the collection of Yukon memories took place. For those who may have read his earlier book about wilderness life in the Pelly area, Nine Dog Winter, the stories in this book come before that one.

The bulk of this book is the story referenced in the subtitle: “The Quest for the Cosmic Bannock”. I’m not entirely sure why is has that title, other than that it sounds like a very 70s sort of existential way to think about the experience. Both Batchelor and his mushing partner, Jan Prenty, consumed lots of bannock on the trail from Pelly Crossing to Dawson City, but there wasn’t anything particularly cosmic about it.

That part of the book takes up the first 193 pages, the remaining three stories being short pieces. Two of these are personal essays about experiences in the Yukon and the other is a short version of the Mad Trapper’s tale.

Batchelor and Prenty met quite by accident in a bar in Whitehorse where he was speculating about the joys of a long trek in the later part of the winter with dogs and a sled. Since he didn’t have enough dogs or a sled or anyone to make the trip with him, it was all hot air at that point. And then Prenty allowed she thought it was a good idea and she’d like to go along.

There was no romance involved here. They’d barely met when she said, “I want you to take me winter camping.”

The idea seemed to take wing among their friends and associates as quickly as an Internet meme does today, and soon the pair were being offered dogs, a sled (a toboggan, actually), supplies and all sorts of encouragement. The blue-sky dream had become a reality.

They planned to embark from the Pelly Farm, after visiting with the Bradley family. After some consultation and debate they decided to use as much as they could of the Dawson Overland Trail, which you can still see along the banks of the Yukon River. Before getting to that, they followed a trail made by Peter Isaac and made their way to Fort Selkirk, where they spent some time with Danny and Abby Roberts.

It was a difficult trek. They had planned to make the run in eight to ten days, finishing up on the Yukon River ice on the final run to Dawson. The dogs had never worked together before, so that was tough. There was ice and slush and overflow water to contend with. Their traces wore out, or were chewed through, and the trail abraded the wood of the toboggan until it actually wore through. If they hadn’t been able to borrow a proper sled from Roger Mendelssohn later on, they would not have been able to finish the trip.

While there was much tension and difficulty along the way, there were a lot of good moments as well. For both of them one of these was when they found a pill canister full of placer gold nuggets in a long abandoned miner’s cabin.

Other names were dropped along the way. They spent a bit of time with the Burian family and Alan Nordling was one of the other people they encountered on their trip, along with John Tapsell and Brian MacDonald.

Despite all the problems, the trip did something for them. Prenty married a trapper and raised a family on a trap line. Batchelor went on to have his Nine Dog Winter marry Marsha, his partner on that later adventure. They now live in Victoria and he works in the publishing trade, while doing a bit of writing.

The second story in the book, “Cost Plus” is about some misadventures in the oil exploration trade up near Eagle Plains, while the final piece, “Love Story for Lucy”, is about the relationship between a man and his best friend, a dog. “Trapping the Mad Trapper” is a short version of that story, enlivened by quotations from a journal kept by Mrs. Helen Thronthwaite, a registered nurse who talked to some of the First Nations men who participated in the hunt for Albert Johnson.

 

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