In Ghost Trails, Jill Homer does something very difficult, she tells the story of riding and pushing a bicycle through 350 miles of frozen Alaskan wilderness on the Iditarod Trail. And while the journey itself is epic, what Jill does in this book is far more impressive than simply competing in this difficult race, she never stops being human and she's never afraid to share that humanity with her readers.
As readers, we know that Jill survives this race, but she still manages to tell a page-turner of a story, painting word pictures of the country, the remote cabins that serve as checkpoints, her fellow competitors, the weather and the darkness. But most importantly, she constantly asks, answers and asks again the Talking Heads question, "well, how did I get here?"
She really captures the thoughts that filled her mind on the 350 miles of the trail by recounting tales from her past, the events that made her not a super-human competitor but a human who competes, and completes, on a course that is far less remote now that Jill has taken us along on the journey.
Her humanity shows through in both tears and a wry sense of humor. She questions herself and concludes that she probably wasted too much time training and not enough time buying peanut butter cups. She holds her frozen Camelbak as an "ice baby" and finally thaws it enough to get a single swallow of water. She doubts and...
But there was one other certainty in my mind — the certainty that I could no longer bear the uncertainty. I could no longer linger in limbo. The longer I stalled, the further I sank into dull madness. I was going to have to decide right there whether I was going to push for McGrath or get on a plane back to Anchorage with Ted and never look back. Either way, I would have to accept the consequences. There was no going back to the start, not any more. I knew there was a reason I had planned so diligently for the race, trained all winter for the race, spent all of my free time thinking about the race.
“If only I could remember what that reason was,” I thought as I mounted my bicycle and pedaled into the dark. And with that, I was finally moving down the trail.
Jill takes us all along on that trail and the other trails that lead her to Alaska and that I know will lead her to further adventures. Ghost Trails is a wonderful book, one that I rationed out like a precious supply of peanut butter cups. It is a book to be savored, a book to remind you that there always is a reason to be moving down that trail, even if you don't remember what that reason was.