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A Conversation with Pam Flowers
Musher, Explorer, Author


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A
lone Across the Arctic, Pam Flowers' first book, is an exciting non-fiction account of her 2,500-mile expedition by dog team from Point Barrow to Repulse Bay, Canada. Her second book, Big Enough Anna, is an appealing children's story about one of her sled dogs. Your editor, Barbara Petura, interviewed Pam recently, gaining added insights on her expedition, experiences with Siberian Huskies and sled dogs generally, her two books, and her work to inspire children to follow their dreams.
Read the interview.

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Pam Flowers was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and was introduced to the beauty of the Arctic in a school program when she was 11 years old.
She is a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School, Lander, Wyoming, and has numerous sled dog expeditions to her credit.  In 1991, Outside magazine named her an "Outsider of the Year," and in 1996 the Society of Woman Geographers awarded her their Gold Medal.

Today Flowers raises and trains sled dogs in Talkeetna, Alaska, and travels to speak to children. I was fortunate to meet Pam during a visit to Alaska several years ago, and am delighted she agreed to this interview with WorkingDogWeb.

Barbara Petura:   When and where did you first get behind a sled dog team, and what was your reaction?

Pam Flowers:   The first time I got behind a sled dog team was in Washington state. It wasn't a very good experience because the guy had a really bad temper.  So I headed for Alaska and stayed with Earl and Natalie Norris in Willow, Alaska, for a year. That was one of the best experiences of my life. They treated their dogs well, had lots of equipment and I learned how to be a good dog musher.

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Pam and her team

Barbara:   When did you get your own first sled dogs? What kind were they and what breeding lines did they come from? Did you breed the dogs that took you on your various treks?

Pam:   I bought five dogs from the Norrises which were, of course, Siberians. That was the beginning of my kennel. The next year, two of Norrises dogs produced an accidental litter of four puppies -- the mother was Siberian and the father an Eskimo dog. They weren't the kind of dogs that many mushers would want.

However, I jumped at the chance to buy them and got exactly what I hoped for: the brains of a Siberian and their willingness to work and the tough feet and thick coat of the Eskimo, perfect for Arctic expeditioning. Getting those puppies was the best decision I ever made when it came to acquiring new dogs. Those dogs had puppies with some of my dogs and they had puppies, and those three generations of dogs made up my team that went across the Arctic with me.

Barbara:  Before your major expedition across the North American Arctic from Point Barrow to Repulse Bay, you completed several other major treks by dog team.  What were they, and how did they prepare you for the big trip?

Pam:   I completed the Iditarod in 1983 and that was great fun because there is always a trail, lots of friendly people at checkpoints and villages, and great sportmanship on the trail. It was the last trek I made with my dogs where there was a trail. After that I sledded to the Magnetic North Pole twice, along the coast of Alaska from Kotzebue to Barrow to the Canadian border, 135 miles north out onto the Arctic Ocean and a lot of smaller treks.

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Pam and Anna in the Arctic with satellite navigation gear
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There was a lot more challenge to each of those journeys than there was on the Iditarod. Just having to find your way with no trail slows you down about one mile per hour. Battling broken sea ice piled up five to twenty feet high and trying to get a heavy sled through can be pretty demanding and very hard work for the dogs and me. You have to figure out how to get your supplies to where they need to be, and, of course, you have to very self-sufficient because nobody is going to be sledding by or flying over you when you are in the extreme north, alone in the wilderness. But I love those challenges.

Barbara:   What gave you the idea specifically for the 2,500-mile expedition across the Arctic?

Pam:    For several years I had been doing shorter treks while on vacation from my job as a respiratory therapist. I'd pool all my vacation and holiday days together and take a little extra time off without pay so I could stay out there in the Arctic with my dogs as long as possible. But it was never long enough and I never wanted to go home.

Then I read a book by Knud Rasmussen, who together with two Greenland Natives, a woman named Anarulunguaq and a man named Metiq, crossed the Arctic going east to west 2,500 miles from Repulse Bay, Nunavut, to Barrow, Alaska. I was inspired and decided that was the trek for me and my goal was to retrace their route as closely as possible.

Barbara:   Your book, Alone Across the Arctic, is filled with your many exciting adventures. Is there one that stands out for you in terms of your relationship with your dogs?

Pam:   Yes, and when I look back on it, this little story seems like such a small event. One day we sledded out of Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, with a very heavy sled and the ice fog was so bad that we kept getting lost. I was anxious to make good time and was asking much of the dogs. The next day they went on strike and refused to pull. I was really upset at first because it was a beautiful day and we needed to make miles.

But when a team goes on strike, it really is time to stop and examine what you are doing. My dogs, like most sled dogs, are honest and hard working. So I looked at them and decided we needed a little vacation. I unharnessed everyone and we ran and ran and played tag, napped and snacked all day long. It was such a beautiful day and we all had so much fun and really enjoyed ourselves. The next day they were back at work. It was a good decision to take that break.

Barbara:   What inspired you to write your children’s book about Anna, one of the dogs on your expedition?

Pam:   I talk to kids in schools all over the country. The book, Alone Across the Arctic, was written for upper grades and adults and I felt badly that the little kids didn't have a book they could read themselves. I also noticed they really identified with my dog, Anna, because she was small and young and no one thought she could do much.

When you are five or six years old you spend a lot of time showing people you are not too small or young to do things. Anna was a hero and helped save the expedition so she was the perfect role model dog to write a young children's book about. No matter how many books I write, no book will ever mean as much as Big Enough Anna does. The cover looks just like her - beautiful, elegant, and gutsy.

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Barbara: In recent years, you have been traveling across North America to talk with school children about your adventures and your dogs. What is the most important thing you hope the children will take away from those programs?

Pam:   There are two things. First, I try to emphasis that my dogs and I had to work together as a team and treat each other with manners and courtesy. Even dogs need manners to get along together in life.

Second, I tell them to pick a dream and go after it. Dreams are what keep you going when things get rough in life. They give you something inside your head to hang onto no matter what is happening to you. It's ok to change your dream, just have one.

Barbara:  How can a school or library or other group arrange to have you come for a presentation and visit?

Pam:   The best way is to email me at pam@pamflowers.com They can also visit my website -- www.pamflowers.com -- and see lots of great information there.

Barbara:  Do you have any plans -- or dreams -- for entering a long-distance race such as the Yukon Quest or any other sled dog adventures?

Pam:   I don't enjoy racing. It's great sport but I really prefer doing expeditions.

Barbara:    What did I forget to ask? Is there something else you would like to share with WorkingDogWeb visitors?

Pam:   My dogs and I have traveled ten of thousands of miles together and one of the things I am most proud of is that we have always come home alive and together. We haven't always succeeded at the goals I set, but my dogs have given me more pleasure than anything else on earth.

Pam Flowers was interviewed via e-mail by
Barbara Petura, Webmaster, WorkingDogWeb.com
in January 2004.  Thanks, Pam!

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Links to more information about Pam Flowers & interview references:

Pam Flowers Expedition - her official home page

History-making woman tells of Arctic adventures - Sault Ste. Marie native
talks with children about adventures, reaching for dreams, November 8, 2003

Pam Flowers: Arctic Explorer - National Outdoor Leadership School Alumnus

Solo musher to speak on her experiences - Juneau Empire, Jan. 15, 2004

Biography in Brief - includes awards and honors

Iditarod Summer Speaker to Teachers - she's also visited more than 560 schools to speak with children about her adventures

Howling Dog Farm & Alaskan's Anadyr Siberian Huskies - Pam got her start here

Knud Rasmussen & Thule Expeditions - Pam was inspired by the famous 5th Thule Expedition of this Greenland explorer and by the Greenland native woman named Anarulunguaq who accompanied him.


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Iditarod & Quest Books  
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turq-vsm.gif (920 bytes) Dashing Through the Snow: The Story of the Junior Iditarod
Sherry Shahan / Paperback / Published 1997. Search for used copy

turq-vsm.gif (920 bytes) Iditarod Dreams: A Year in the Life of Alaskan Sled Dog Racer Deedee Jonrowe, Lew Freedman & DeeDee Jonrowe / Paperback / Published 1995Order this book here

turq-vsm.gif (920 bytes) The Last Great Race: The Iditarod, Tim Jones / Paperback / Published 1988.  Order this book here

turq-vsm.gif (920 bytes) Race Across Alaska: First Woman to Win the Iditarod Tells Her Story, by Libby Riddles, Tim Jones / Paperback / Published 1988. Order this book here

turq-vsm.gif (920 bytes) Running North : A Yukon Adventure, by Ann Mariah Cook / Hardcover / Published 1998. Order this book here

turq-vsm.gif (920 bytes) Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, by
Gary Paulsen / Hardcover / Published 1994. Order this book here
turq-vsm.gif (920 bytes) Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, by
Gary Paulsen / Paperback / Published 1995. Order this book here
turq-vsm.gif (920 bytes) Yukon Quest: The 1,000-Mile Dog Sled Race Through the Yukon and Alaska, by John Firth / Paperback / Published 1998. Order this book here

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Iditarod Country: Exploring the Route of the Last Great Race,
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turq-vsm.gif (920 bytes) Mush : A Beginner's Manual of Sled Dog Training, by the Sierra Nevada Dog Drivers / Paperback / Published 1980. Order this book here

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Lessons My Sled Dog Taught Me :
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