The dogs' owner was delayed in a blizzard. So you never learned the dogs' names or the team's unique commands. How did you get them to work with you?
Yasha and Tolia, the Chukchis who were with me, helped enormously. I knew little except that the front dogs were probably the top dogs and that the key was probably finding the alpha male and getting his respect. That meant going out to the tundra, getting to know the dogs, and getting them to see me as important in their lives. For example, when I fed them I was talking to them all the time, reminding them I was the provider. I'd walk up and down the lines of the dogs making them get out of my way to show that I was the boss. It's simply to do with a sense of who's in charge
The Arctic is a terribly tough and dangerous environment. Their respect is all to do with whether they feel safe in your hands. They knew the landscape. They could smell things that I couldn't like bears and open water. Gradually, I did get them on my side, and they would override their fears and trust me.
The greatest feeling was the dogs allowing me to have the kind of freedom, in that environment, that I'd had in the desert with camels. My biggest fear was that one day I was gong to be alone, and they might desert me out there when the chance came. It sounds a bit anthropomorphic, but you're aware of these dogs assessing you all the timeespecially the lead dog who wanted to know what I was doing with his pack.
During your expedition, those fears were nearly realized. While scouting a route forward through the jumbled ice pack, you lost the team and spent a dangerous night out alone on the ice not knowing if you'd every find them again. How did that experience change your journey?
I remember turning on the camera and giving sort of an update, but thinking to myself: 'This could be a death sentence.' I needed my dogs.
No one in the world knew where I was, and it was reinforced to me how dependent we were upon each other. When I found them [still] waiting for me the next morning, I knew that they would go to the end of the world for meand that feeling was the most important achievement. More important than any specific feat was the trust of these individuals who allowed me to see this place as a sort of home.
I thought that these dogs deserved to get back to their home. In the end, I was responsible their lives, and I was absolutely determined that I would come back with these ten characters. More or less right then I decided to turn around with them and go back.
Your experience might have been quite different if you'd crossed successfully with no such incident.
I wondered about that afterwards. I thought, 'What would I have come away with if I'd crossed without that happening?' A personal satisfaction, but it might have been a rather empty reward for a long journey
One way or another, each dog in his own way played a part, and I just thought, 'This is such a treasure, this team.' You got to know their strengths and weaknesses and you had the feeling that they knew yours as well. Saying goodbye to those ten characters was absolutely devastating.
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