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"There Are Lots Of Ways To Die in Alaska"
April 24, 2013 9:42 AM   Subscribe

I was staring at a week and a half of bone-deep cold, probable-verging-on-inevitable blizzards, baneful travel conditions, and total isolation from the civilized (read: broadband-having) world. I hate snow, do not play winter sports, keep the thermostat at 65 on a good day, and haven’t logged out of Spotify since 2011. I’m not even a dog person. Grantland's Brian Phillips covers the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
posted by Ghostride The Whip (33 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
@runofplay (Brian Phillips) "I also want to thank my editor for putting up with texts like this, from the finish line in Nome."
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:06 AM on April 24, 2013 [13 favorites]


Thanks Ghostride, this is great! Not finished reading yet, but favorite part so far:
I HAVE CONQUERED THE MYSTERIES OF FLIGHT, I hollered inwardly, across the valleys of my emotions. LET THE AIR ITSELF BOW DOWN BEFORE ME.

“That was pretty good,” Jay said. “Let’s try it again.”

EEP, NO, I bellowed to the valleys.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:23 AM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


The integration between the map and the text as you scroll is nice too. Kudos to the ESPN web design guys.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:36 AM on April 24, 2013


It must be Iditarod week in the journalism world: the New Yorker also just did a long and wonderful article about the race. (Subscription required, sorry.)
posted by reductiondesign at 10:38 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


It would be hard for me to be more on-board with a concept than I am on-board for "Brian Phillips writes 20,000 words for Grantland about following the Iditarod." This is great.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:05 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


This tweet from Phillips is also pretty hilarious. (Sorry I can only link to twitter mobile because reasons.)
posted by Wretch729 at 11:15 AM on April 24, 2013


“You’re not a pilot in Alaska,” Jay said, fixing me with a blue-eyed and somehow vaguely piratical stare, “until you’ve crashed an airplane. You go up in one of these stinkin’ tin cans in the Arctic? Sooner or later you’re gonna lose a motor, meet the wrong gust of wind, you name it. And OH BY THE WAY” (leaning in closer, stare magnifying in significance) “that doesn’t have to be the last word.”
I like this guy a lot.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:24 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Christophe, his friend and former student, was younger, maybe in his late 40s, and cool in a louche French way, with a weird personal ostrich of uncombed gray hair; he was cigarette-thin and spent the whole trip with his neck elaborately engulfed in a camouflage-print silk scarf. He had this way of leaning on things. The heir to a rock-quarry fortune, he’d worked as a photographer but retired young to a life of intensively having cheekbones.
THIS SHIT IS GOLD
posted by Pallas Athena at 11:44 AM on April 24, 2013 [13 favorites]


Pallas Athena: Ha, I am at exactly the same part, and had the same thought. This is an intensely entertaining bit of sports journalism so far.
posted by yasaman at 11:53 AM on April 24, 2013


This was a fantastic read! And okay so maybe I was having Balto: The Grossly Inaccurate Animated Movie flashbacks the whole time, I guess my twelve-year-old self is way closer to the surface than I thought. Thanks so much for sharing!
posted by brieche at 12:03 PM on April 24, 2013


Oh sweet Jebus. Read Winterdance by Gary Paulsen. It's his memoir of running the race. It is exceedingly...human.
posted by plinth at 12:05 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh man, I think I read Winterdance in school. Bits of it are still in my brain. Time for a reread.
posted by curious nu at 12:14 PM on April 24, 2013


Ugh, this is so good and effortlessly quotable. Can we give Brian Phillips an award or something?
posted by redsparkler at 12:15 PM on April 24, 2013


If you are new to the Joy of Brian Phillips, and have any interest in soccer and/or sports sim video games, you owe it to yourself to plow into his massive series in which he manages a once-great Italian team (Pro Vercelli) from the depths of the Italian leagues to the pinnacle of world soccer greatness in Football Manager 2010.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:21 PM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Great! I really enjoyed that, other than his overuse of the word "reportorial."
posted by Safiya at 12:23 PM on April 24, 2013


To mitigate this, the savvy backseater will bank the wings one way while stepping on the opposite rudder pedal, causing the plane to twist 30 degrees or so to one side while continuing to travel in a straight line, like a runner sliding into base.

This is also a common technique to lose a lot of altitude very very quickly if you have to (or to fight a crosswind on landing) and I have learned to warn passengers what's going to happen ahead of time. Otherwise they tend to, and I'm quoting the regs here, "freak the fuck out".

"The plane is going to something very strange in about 10 seconds, please do not try to grab the controls or claw at my hair."
posted by backseatpilot at 12:29 PM on April 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


Good stuff!

Winterdance is one of my favorite books! The pages are stained because I was drinking a Pepsi and snorted it out my nose laughing. A couple fellas I know that have run the Iditarod years ago said it's pretty much the way it used to be.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:40 PM on April 24, 2013


"Yeah. Well. A thing about me as a pilot is that I do not, ever, want to see forward out of the side window. Especially not while plummeting toward a frozen lake. It’s like, bro, why create the hurricane."

Why have I not heard of Brian Phillips before?! This is amazing.
posted by stellaluna at 12:43 PM on April 24, 2013


Brian Phillips is the best thing about Grantland, and I say this is a serious fan of Katie Baker, who is pretty much living the dream.

Also, I don't even watch soccer, and have developed sort of an allergy to it because my husband is the kind of man who watches the under-21 World Cup quarterfinals at 10 in the morning on Saturday, but I read every word of Phillips's Pro Vercelli.
posted by joyceanmachine at 12:52 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh sweet Jebus. Read Winterdance by Gary Paulsen. It's his memoir of running the race. It is exceedingly...human.

I probably should. But I have so many horrible memories of having been forced to read Paulson books as a kid - I think circa 5th & 6th grade - which I absolutely despised every minute of, that I cannot even conceive of voluntarily experiencing him again.

Christ, I hated those fucking books. I love books and love reading and so many of my most cherished memories are of pages and text, and if you showed me a copy of Hatchet right now I would probably rear back and snarl and swipe at it with a terrified hateful yell.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:07 PM on April 24, 2013


Some of the images from Winterdance are deeply engraved in my memory: sledding through backyards in Anchorage, teams engaged in "unbelievable savagery" as they attempt to turn around, air so cold you can't light a match. A great read.
posted by No Robots at 1:32 PM on April 24, 2013


Dang. That's how you layout a story.
posted by starman at 1:50 PM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wonderful, wonderful article. This bit about ptarmigan hunting made me laugh: “Bro,” Steve said. “It was incredible. These birds are so dumb! I missed one from 20 feet and it reacted by walking toward me.”

I used to go hunting for ptarmigan when I was a kid, and I always felt just awful about it. It's so easy it feels unfair. They're the dumbest, weirdly aggressive little guys who have just no idea what's happening around them at any point. You could shoot a ptarmigan from 10 feet, then reload and shoot the one next to it, which wouldn't have moved. I don't think I could handle it if they weren't so delicious.
posted by ZaphodB at 1:51 PM on April 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Half the Grantland articles I read are, like this one, just about the best thing I've ever read on the subject at hand.

What puzzles me, though, is how laughably bad the other half are.
posted by dersins at 2:48 PM on April 24, 2013


I just finished this and wow, fantastic. Thanks for sharing!
posted by ChuraChura at 3:00 PM on April 24, 2013


Aliy Zirkle (who finished the race in second place again this year) has an excellent blog. She's just been posting a lot of video of this year's race. How she stays so relentlessly cheerful in such a terrifying environment is a complete mystery to me.

Good dawgs!
posted by Combat Wombat at 6:13 PM on April 24, 2013


Metafilter: I don't think I could handle it if they weren't so delicious.
posted by cyndigo at 7:53 PM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fabulous.

Thanks for that!
posted by inparticularity at 10:50 PM on April 24, 2013


Related: A Brief History of Iditabike.
posted by box at 4:46 AM on April 25, 2013


I'll second Winterdance, it is worth a read!
posted by Upon Further Review at 8:41 AM on April 27, 2013


Not only a fantastic article, but really good use of the multimedia. (Although the pictures all remind me, once again, that Alaska has far more than its fair share of INCREDIBLY UGLY ROOFS. I don't know why that bothers me so much!)

What a great read!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:54 PM on April 28, 2013


Also, the world would be a better place if more people quoted Robert Service and I can still recite 90% of The Cremation of Sam McGee from a high school poetry project and I recite it at my husband whenever he starts bitching about it being cold and he's really tired of hearing about the strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:57 PM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Response from Alaska Dispatch: Spare us the overblown, overwrought tales of how scary Iditarod is to outsiders

posted by leahwrenn at 6:04 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


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