According to John Firth’s new book One Mush, Jamaicans hate dogs.
So what was Caribbean musher Newton Marshall doing on the Yukon Quest in 2009? One Mush, self-published jointly by Firth and the Jamaica Dogsled Team, tells that story.
“I thought it was a great story because of the cultural gap between the beaches of Jamaica and the mountains of mid-winter Yukon,” says Firth.
He reveals Marshall’s challenge to overcome life in Jamaica’s underprivileged class, and the brush with the law that nearly cost him the chance to race. For Firth, Marshall’s “elevation from disgrace into becoming the centre point of the entire story” makes One Mush compelling.
A dog-loving Jamaican is also an anomaly. Marshall’s society remembers dogs as trackers of runaway slaves and the jaws of enforcement. Even today, many Islanders stone dogs.
Marshall went from loving the animals to accepting them as colleagues that, with proper care and attention, helped him achieve his goals.
Between adventurous training runs and tales from the trail, readers learn Marshall started mushing with dryland races in Jamaica. The sport, popular in Australia, New Zealand, and Scotland, sees teams of four to six dogs pulling bikes, carts, ATVs in neutral, or scooters on trails three to five kilometres long. Whitehorse dryland racers pack the Yukon Hot Hounds roster.
After a stint in Scotland, Marshall trained with four-time Yukon Quest champion Hans Gatt to become a contender.
He absorbed Gatt’s advice, some of which Firth captures in these pages, and competed in Alaska’s Copper Basin in 2008, where Firth got close to the team as handler.
Marshall finally qualified for the Quest with the Percy deWolfe from Dawson to Eagle, but it wasn’t all smooth running at Gatt Kennels.
Firth lays the story bare in One Mush. “I hope I simply recorded what transpired and its fall-out. It’s not that easy to detach yourself from those kinds of situations” after two years of research and writing, he says.
To guard against bias, Firth relied on his freelance editor, Erin McMullan, who knew some of the players.
Marshall now trains in Alaska with Quest and Iditarod champion Lance Mackey. But, as Firth says, “I think the roots of the Jamaican Dog Team and the first race are the real drama because there was no precedent.”
While American and international distributors have approached Firth to carry the book, domestic bookstore distribution is under negotiation.
As of December 16, though, Yukoners can purchase their copies of One Mushat local bookstores, gift shops and museums, or on-line at www.johnfirth.ca, and www.jamaicadogsled.com.