Alaskan adventurer’s tales inspires quest for success
Country Matters columnist Natalie Pitfield’s Alaskan farm visit renews ‘sense of empowerment’.
I’ve often wondered what lifestyle blocks or small farms are like in other parts of the world.
When I travel I try to find out the answer to this question.
On a recent trip I learned more than I’d ever hoped for and met a lady who is one of the most inspirational human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering.
Mary Shields lives outside of Fairbanks, Alaska.
My husband, Kevin, and I visited her small farm. We wanted to talk to Mary, look around her farm and meet her sled dog team.
Mary was one of the first women to compete in the Iditerod Thousand Mile mushing race in Alaska. She also competed in the Yukon thousand mile event and in a charity event through Siberia.
Most competitors spend around $30,000, have at least 15 dogs and devote themselves to training for the events. Mary decided that her gorgeous dogs could handle things so she built her own sled, took around seven dogs and just got out there and did it.
We arrived at Mary’s house and were surprised when she came out to greet us in a wheelchair.
She apologised for it and said she’d gone to Anchorage to have a pin put in her ankle but there wasn’t enough bone so they amputated her foot. It had only been a few weeks and she wasn’t used to her prosthetic yet.
But she assured us that the next time we saw her she’d be walking and mushing again.
She showed us around her gardens and then we met her dogs.
There were two five-week-old pups and we got to help her with the dogs for a while, including putting the pups out on the grass for the first time. We were in Heaven. Then we went inside and sat and listened to Mary tell stories.
She was so matter-of-fact about all the amazing things she’d accomplished. And her little log cabin was just beautiful.
She has volunteers come in and give her a hand with her dogs but she’s fiercely independent.
And given that she’s 72 that’s pretty incredible.
We told her stories of our own lifestyle block and the animals we love. She said she hadn’t been so entertained in ages.
We left Mary’s place with a renewed sense of empowerment.
Two months later I still feel like there’s not much I can’t accomplish with hard work and determination.
Kevin Pitfield, with Mary Shields. Kevin is holding a five-week-old Husky puppy.