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Angel Howard
Angel Howard

Download PDF: The Cruelest Miles - The Epic Tale of Courage and Cooperation in a Race Against an Epidemic




The Cruelest Miles: A Review of the Book by Gay and Laney Salisbury




Introduction




Have you ever wondered what it takes to survive in extreme conditions? Have you ever admired the bond between humans and animals? Have you ever heard of the amazing story of how sled dogs saved a town from a deadly disease?




TheCruelestMilesTheHeroicStoryofDogsandMeninaRaceAgainstanEpidemicdownloadpdf



If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you might be interested in reading The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by Gay and Laney Salisbury. This is a book that tells the true story of how sled dogs delivered life-saving serum to Nome, Alaska, during a diphtheria outbreak in 1925.


In this article, I will give you a brief overview of what the book is about, why it is important, and what are some of the main themes that emerge from it. I will also summarize some of the key events and characters that make this story so compelling and inspiring.


Background




What was the situation in Nome in 1925?




Nome is a small town on the coast of the Bering Sea, in the northwest of Alaska. It was once a booming gold rush town, but by 1925, it had become a remote and isolated place, with only about 1,400 residents, mostly Native Alaskans and a few white settlers.


Nome was cut off from the rest of the world by ice and snow for most of the year. The only way to communicate with the outside world was by radio or telegraph. The only way to transport goods and people was by ship or plane, but both were unreliable and risky in the harsh winter weather.


In January 1925, Nome faced a serious threat: a diphtheria epidemic. Diphtheria is a highly contagious bacterial infection that affects the respiratory system. It causes fever, sore throat, and difficulty breathing. It can also produce a thick membrane that covers the throat and blocks the airway, leading to suffocation and death.


What is diphtheria and how does it affect people?




Diphtheria is caused by a bacterium called Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It spreads through respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing, or through contact with infected wounds or objects. It can also be carried by asymptomatic carriers, who do not show any symptoms but can infect others.


Diphtheria mainly affects children under the age of five, but it can also affect adults who are not immune. The incubation period is usually two to five days, but it can be longer or shorter depending on the dose of bacteria and the immune status of the person.


The first symptoms of diphtheria are usually mild, such as fever, sore throat, and swollen glands. However, as the infection progresses, it can cause more serious complications, such as:


  • Necrosis (tissue death) of the nose, throat, and mouth



  • Pseudomembrane (a grayish-white layer of dead cells and bacteria) that covers the throat and can obstruct the airway



  • Paralysis of the muscles that control swallowing and breathing



  • Heart failure due to damage to the heart muscle by toxins produced by the bacteria



  • Nerve damage that can affect the eyes, ears, limbs, and brain



  • Kidney failure due to toxins in the blood



  • Secondary infections such as pneumonia or sepsis



The mortality rate of diphtheria can range from 5% to 10%, but it can be higher in young children or in cases with severe complications. The only effective treatment for diphtheria is antitoxin, which is a serum derived from the blood of horses that have been immunized against diphtheria. Antitoxin can neutralize the toxins produced by the bacteria and prevent further damage to the body. However, antitoxin must be administered as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms, otherwise it may be too late to save the patient.


What was the challenge of delivering the serum?




In January 1925, Nome had only one doctor: Dr. Curtis Welch. He was responsible for taking care of the health of the entire town and its surrounding villages. He had a small supply of antitoxin, but it was expired and insufficient to treat more than a few cases.


When Dr. Welch diagnosed the first case of diphtheria in a young boy named Billy Barnett on January 20th, he knew he had to act fast. He sent an urgent telegram to Anchorage, asking for more antitoxin to be sent by plane. However, there were no planes available in Anchorage that could fly in winter conditions. The only plane that could make the trip was in Seattle, but it would take too long to get there and prepare for the flight.


The only other option was to send the antitoxin by ship from Seattle to Seward, Alaska, and then by train to Nenana, Alaska. From there, it would have to be transported by sled dog teams across 674 miles of frozen wilderness to Nome. This route was known as the Iditarod Trail, and it was used by mail carriers and gold miners in summer and winter.


The journey by sled dog would normally take 25 days, but Dr. Welch estimated that he had only six days before the epidemic would become uncontrollable. He asked for 1 million units of antitoxin to be sent as soon as possible.


The Race Against Time




How did the relay of sled dogs work?





The Race Against Time




How did the relay of sled dogs work?




The relay of sled dogs was organized by the governor of Alaska, Scott Bone, and the superintendent of the U.S. Public Health Service in Alaska, Mark Summers. They decided to use multiple teams of dogs and mushers (drivers) to transport the serum along the Iditarod Trail, instead of relying on one team that could get delayed or lost.


The serum arrived in Nenana on January 27th, where it was handed over to the first musher, William "Wild Bill" Shannon. He had a team of nine dogs, led by a black husky named Blackie. He faced a blizzard and temperatures as low as -50F (-46C) as he drove his team 52 miles (84 km) to Tolovana.


There, he passed the serum to Dan Green, who had a team of seven dogs, led by a gray husky named Fox. Green drove 31 miles (50 km) to Manley Hot Springs, where he gave the serum to Johnny Folger, who had a team of eight dogs, led by a brown husky named Jack. Folger drove 28 miles (45 km) to Fish Lake, where he handed the serum to Sam Joseph, who had a team of nine dogs, led by a black and white husky named Baldy.


This pattern continued for several days and nights, with each musher driving a different distance and facing different challenges along the way. Some of them had to cross frozen rivers and lakes that could crack under their weight. Some of them had to climb steep hills and mountains that tested their endurance. Some of them had to deal with strong winds and snowstorms that reduced their visibility. Some of them had to fend off attacks from wild animals such as moose and wolves.


In total, 20 mushers and about 150 dogs participated in the relay. They covered an average of 50 miles (80 km) per day, but some of them drove much faster or slower depending on the conditions. The fastest musher was Leonhard Seppala, who drove 91 miles (146 km) in one day with his team of 20 dogs, led by a legendary Siberian husky named Togo. The slowest musher was Edgar Kallands, who drove only 24 miles (39 km) in one day with his team of six dogs.


Who were some of the key mushers and dogs?




Among the 20 mushers and 150 dogs that took part in the relay, some stood out for their remarkable feats and contributions. Here are some of them:



  • Leonhard Seppala: He was a Norwegian-born musher who lived in Nome and worked for the Pioneer Mining Company. He was considered one of the best dog drivers in Alaska and had won several races with his Siberian huskies. He was assigned to drive the longest and most dangerous part of the relay, from Nulato to Shaktoolik, across Norton Sound. He covered 261 miles (420 km) in four days with his team of 20 dogs.



  • Togo: He was Seppala's lead dog and his most trusted companion. He was born in 1913 as a runt of the litter and was not expected to survive. He proved to be a strong and intelligent dog who learned quickly from Seppala. He became famous for his endurance, speed, and sense of direction. He led Seppala's team across Norton Sound when it was frozen over but unstable, risking falling into the icy water. He also saved Seppala from a moose attack by distracting the animal until Seppala shot it.



  • Gunnar Kaasen: He was another Norwegian-born musher who worked for Seppala as his second driver. He was given the task of driving the last leg of the relay from Bluff to Nome with his team of 13 dogs. He faced a severe blizzard that made him lose sight of the trail markers and almost miss his checkpoint at Port Safety. He decided to continue on to Nome without stopping or changing teams, arriving at 5:30 a.m. on February 2nd.



  • Balto: He was Kaasen's lead dog and the one who became the most famous of the relay. He was a black and white Siberian husky who was born in 1919. He was not considered a very good leader by Seppala, who preferred Togo, but he proved to be reliable and loyal to Kaasen. He helped Kaasen find the trail in the blizzard and reach Nome safely with the serum. He became a national hero and a symbol of the serum run. He had a statue erected in his honor in Central Park, New York City.



What were some of the obstacles and dangers they faced?




The relay of sled dogs faced many obstacles and dangers along the way, such as:



  • Extreme cold: The temperatures during the relay ranged from -20F (-29C) to -50F (-46C), not counting the wind chill factor. The cold could cause frostbite, hypothermia, and exhaustion for both the mushers and the dogs. The mushers had to wear layers of clothing, gloves, and goggles to protect themselves from the cold. The dogs had to wear booties on their paws to prevent ice from forming between their toes.



  • Blizzards: The relay coincided with one of the worst storms in Alaska's history, which brought heavy snowfall, strong winds, and poor visibility. The blizzards made it hard for the mushers to see the trail markers and avoid obstacles. They also increased the risk of getting lost or stranded in the wilderness. The blizzards also slowed down the progress of the relay and added more pressure on the mushers to deliver the serum on time.



  • Frozen water: The relay had to cross several bodies of water that were frozen over, such as rivers, lakes, and bays. These crossings were dangerous because the ice could be thin or cracked, and could break under the weight of the sleds and dogs. If that happened, the mushers and dogs could fall into the freezing water and drown or die of hypothermia. One of the most perilous crossings was Norton Sound, which was 42 miles (68 km) wide and exposed to strong winds and currents.



  • Wild animals: The relay also encountered some wild animals that posed a threat to the mushers and dogs, such as moose, wolves, and wolverines. Moose were especially dangerous because they were large, aggressive, and unpredictable. They could charge at the sleds and trample or gore the dogs or mushers. Wolves and wolverines could attack or chase the dogs, especially if they were hungry or territorial. The mushers had to carry guns or knives to defend themselves from these animals.



The Triumph of Courage and Cooperation




How did the serum reach Nome?




The serum reached Nome on February 2nd at 5:30 a.m., after traveling 674 miles (1,085 km) in five and a half days by 20 mushers and 150 dogs. The last musher, Gunnar Kaasen, arrived with his team of 13 dogs led by Balto. He handed over the serum to Dr. Curtis Welch, who quickly thawed it and administered it to his patients.


The serum arrived just in time to save many lives and stop the epidemic from spreading further. Dr. Welch reported that only five or six people died of diphtheria out of about 70 cases, which was a very low mortality rate compared to other outbreaks. He credited the success of the serum run to the courage and cooperation of all the people involved.


How did it save lives and stop the epidemic?





The Triumph of Courage and Cooperation




How did the serum reach Nome?




The serum reached Nome on February 2nd at 5:30 a.m., after traveling 674 miles (1,085 km) in five and a half days by 20 mushers and 150 dogs. The last musher, Gunnar Kaasen, arrived with his team of 13 dogs led by Balto. He handed over the serum to Dr. Curtis Welch, who quickly thawed it and administered it to his patients.


The serum arrived just in time to save many lives and stop the epidemic from spreading further. Dr. Welch reported that only five or six people died of diphtheria out of about 70 cases, which was a very low mortality rate compared to other outbreaks. He credited the success of the serum run to the courage and cooperation of all the people involved.


How did it save lives and stop the epidemic?




The serum saved lives by neutralizing the toxins produced by the diphtheria bacteria and preventing further damage to the body. The serum was derived from the blood of horses that had been immunized against diphtheria. It contained antibodies that could bind to and inactivate the toxins.


The serum also stopped the epidemic by reducing the number of infectious cases and breaking the chain of transmission. The serum did not kill or eliminate the bacteria, but it reduced their ability to cause disease. The patients who received the serum still had to take antibiotics to clear the infection and prevent relapse or complications.


How did the world react to the heroic feat?




The world reacted with admiration and gratitude to the heroic feat of the sled dogs and their mushers. The news of their achievement spread quickly through radio, newspapers, and magazines. They received letters, telegrams, medals, and awards from various organizations and individuals. They were invited to parades, banquets, and ceremonies in their honor.


Some of them became celebrities and stars of movies, books, and cartoons. Balto, in particular, became a household name and a symbol of bravery and loyalty. He had a statue erected in his honor in Central Park, New York City, where it still stands today. He also had a movie made about his life in 1995 by Amblin Entertainment.


Conclusion




What are the main takeaways from the book?




The main takeaways from The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic are:



  • Diphtheria is a serious and potentially fatal disease that can be prevented by vaccination.



  • Sled dogs are remarkable animals that can endure harsh conditions and perform amazing feats.



  • Humans and animals can form strong bonds of friendship and trust that can overcome any obstacle.



  • Courage and cooperation are essential values that can make a difference in times of crisis.



How does it inspire us today?




The book inspires us today by reminding us of:



  • The importance of public health measures and scientific research to protect us from infectious diseases.



  • The beauty and diversity of nature and wildlife that we should respect and preserve.



  • The power and joy of adventure and exploration that we should pursue and share.



  • The spirit and legacy of heroism and altruism that we should honor and emulate.



If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like reading The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by Gay and Laney Salisbury. It is a captivating and inspiring book that will take you on a thrilling journey through history, geography, science, and culture.


Frequently Asked Questions





  • Q: When did diphtheria become preventable by vaccine?A: Diphtheria became preventable by vaccine in 1926, when a toxoid (a weakened form of toxin) was developed by Gaston Ramon in France. The vaccine was first used widely in 1930s.



  • Q: How many dogs died during the serum run?A: The exact number of dogs that died during the serum run is not known, but it is estimated that at least five dogs died. Some of the causes of death were exhaustion, frostbite, pneumonia, and injuries.



  • Q: What happened to Balto after the serum run?A: Balto and his team were sold to a vaudeville showman named Sam Houston, who toured them around the country. They were mistreated and neglected, until they were rescued by George Kimble, a businessman from Cleveland, Ohio. Kimble raised money to buy the dogs and donated them to the Cleveland Zoo, where they lived until their deaths. Balto died in 1933 at the age of 14.



  • Q: What is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race?A: The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an annual long-distance sled dog race that runs from Anchorage to Nome, following part of the historic Iditarod Trail. It was started in 1973 by Joe Redington Sr. and Dorothy Page as a way to commemorate the serum run and preserve the tradition of sled dog culture. It is considered one of the most challenging and prestigious sporting events in the world.



Q: Where can I learn more about diphtheria and sled dogs?A: You can learn more about diphtheria and sled dogs by visiting these websites:


  • CDC - Diphtheria



  • BLM - Iditarod National Historic Trail



  • Iditarod - The Last Great Race



  • Cleveland Museum of Natural History - Balto




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