Good Reads: Learning from the Serum Run

The Cruelest Miles by Gay and Laney Salisbury

Need encouragement to just keep on doing what you need to be doing for  another day? This book may be just the story to inspire you.

A diphtheria epidemic breaks out in Nome, Alaska in February, 1925. Medication is urgently needed, but blizzard conditions prevent delivery by air. The result is an epic effort by mushers and their dogs as sleds race across snow and ice with the precious serum.

Relay teams of dogs and drivers run day and night, covering 674 treacherous miles. Temperatures of 65 degrees below zero are recorded along the way. Sightings of the sleds are daily news as the nation follows the drama.

The authors convey the life-and-death undertaking in heart-pounding detail. In one leg of the journey, musher Leohnard Seppala attempts to cross frozen waters
when he hears a crack and realizes he and the dogs are floating on a block of ice out to sea. Nine hours later, his ice raft drifts towards a floe jammed against the shore. Five feet of icy water cascade between the team and the
floe. The plan: Get the lead dog Togo to the other side so he can pull the two chunks of ice together. Seppala “tied a long towline to Togo’s harness,
picked him up, and hurled him across the open channel. Once on the other side,
Togo dug his nails into the floe and lurched toward shore. The line snapped.
Togo spun around and looked back across the chasm at Seppala. The line slipped
into the water. Seppala was speechless. He had just been given a death
sentence. As Seppala stood staring across the lead at Togo, the dog dove into
the water, snapped the line up into his mouth, and struggled back out onto the
jammed-up floe. Holding the line tightly in his jaws, Togo rolled over the line
‘until it was twice looped about his shoulders’ and began to pull. The floe
started to move and Togo continued to pull until it was close enough for
Seppala and his teammates to jump safely across.”

On the seventh day of the run, the final relay team glided into Nome and delivered
the antitoxin. Every glass ampule of the serum arrived intact. The epidemic was

The dogs of the last leg of the long journey were led by Balto. Today you can see a
sculpture of him in New York in Central Park. You can view an animated film
about Balto. What you learn by reading this researched account of the run is
that Balto ran a relatively short distance. Togo ran much farther in more
extreme conditions. He saved Seppala’s life. He should have garnered renown as the hero. Instead, the medals awarded to Togo hang around Balto’s neck in the bronzed version of the serum run.

The dogsled teams gave their all, risking their lives to save others. Fame proved fickle, but at the time no one thought of anything beyond the task. One musher summed it up: “I wanted to help.”

Seppala and Togo. Photo Credit: Ralph Morrill

Some days we may think we do our daily tasks and no one sees. We feel hidden in life’s snowy dark trails. This book reminds us to grab hold and wrap the figurative lifeline around our shoulders and dig in. Someone in our lives depends on this. That’s reason enough to keep on pulling.

This entry was posted in Encouragement, Good Reads, Loving People, Patience, Places and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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